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The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan; Buchanan, James M.
4 paragraphs found.
Ch. 1, Commencement

The approach must be democratic, which in this sense is merely a variant of the definitional norm for individualism. Each man counts for one, and that is that. Once this basic premise is fully acknowledged, an escape route from cynicism seems to be offered. A criterion for "betterness" is suggested. A situation is judged "good" to the extent that it allows individuals to get what they want to get, whatsoever this might be, limited only by the principle of mutual agreement. Individual freedom becomes the overriding objective for social policy, not as an instrumental element in attaining economic or cultural bliss, and not as some metaphysically superior value, but much more simply as a necessary consequence of an individualist-democratic methodology. In some personal and private baring of my soul, I may not "like" the observed results of a regime that allows other men to be free, and, further, I may not even place a high subjective value on my own freedom from the coercion of others. Such possible subjective rankings may exist, but the point to be emphasized is that the dominant role of individual liberty is imposed by an acceptance of the methodology of individualism and not by the subjective valuations of this or that social philosopher.


When he recognizes that there are limits to the other-regardingness of men, and that personal conflict would be ubiquitous in anarchy, the extreme individualist is forced to acknowledge the necessity of some enforcing agent, some institutionalized means of resolving interpersonal disputes. *8 The origins of the state can be derived from an individualistic calculus in this way, at least conceptually, as we know from the writings of Thomas Hobbes as well as from earlier and later contractarians. This essentially economic methodology can be extended to provide conceptual explanations for many of the aspects of political reality that we observe. This was the framework for The Calculus of Consent (1962). *9 In that book, Gordon Tullock and I indulged our fancies and deployed our professional talents in deriving a logically consistent basis for a constitutional and democratic political structure, one which seemed to possess many of the features of the polity envisaged by the Founding Fathers. We offered an understanding of the institutions that have historically emerged in America, an understanding that differs in fundamental respects from that reflected in the conventions of modern political science. The framework for analysis was necessarily contractarian, in that we tried to explain the emergence of observed institutions and to provide norms for changes in existing rules by conceptually placing persons in idealized positions from which mutual agreement might be expected. *10The Calculus of Consent, as well as other works of my own, might be interpreted as an attempt to impose a "vision of order" on observed institutional and behavioral realities.

Ch. 4, Constitutional Contract

An earlier work, The Calculus of Consent, written jointly with Gordon Tullock, was devoted largely to an analysis of the constitutional choice among rules for making collective decisions. In that analysis, Tullock and I assumed implicitly that individual participants in constitutional deliberations over alternative rules faced uncertainty concerning their own interests in future collective decisions. Nonetheless, we did not question the independent establishment of their ultimate rights and claims to property, human and nonhuman, beyond the range of collective-decision rules. As I have suggested, this approach was an extension and application of orthodox economic methodology, which has tended to neglect the critical problems of establishing individual rights. This book differs from The Calculus of Consent in this fundamental respect; here I am trying to analyze the initial contract that assigns rights and claims among persons. This difference allows collective-decision rules to be interpreted in a somewhat modified setting, namely, as an integral part of a more inclusive contract rather than a strictly political constitution superimposed on some previously negotiated settlement. In the earlier book, we argued that the criterion of acceptability or efficiency lay in agreement, in unanimity. Further, we argued that insofar as participants remain uncertain as to their own specific roles in subsequent operation under the rules chosen, they would tend to reach agreement on reasonably "fair" and "efficient" working rules. *71 We did not postulate initial equality among individuals in property rights or in capacities, but our presumption of uncertainty served to generate a plausible basis for agreement on rules for collective action.


The most significant point that emerges from this very general discussion is the interdependence among the several elements in the constitutional mix. Contrary to orthodox economic methodology, the rights of persons to property, the rights to do things privately and individually with physical resources, cannot be treated in isolation from those rights which are indirectly represented by membership in a collectivity that is constitutionally empowered to make decisions under predetermined rules. Consider, for example, the position of a person who holds nominal ownership rights to an income stream from a scarce and highly valued resource (human or nonhuman). This private ownership claim may be tempered by the membership rights in the collectivity, the governmental institutions of the community, that are held by other persons, membership rights that may offer other persons some indirect claims on the differentially higher income stream in question. This is not to suggest that the specific constitutional mix chosen need be the most efficient. As noted in Chapter 3, all parties might have gained by an initial transfer of claims with substantially greater stability of nominal ownership claims.