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Lessons and Challenges in The Limits of Liberty

By Pierre Lemieux

James Buchanan is not easy to categorize. Is he a libertarian? A classical liberal? A conservative? Or perhaps even a "liberal" in the modern American sense of "progressive" or "social democrat"? Is he an economist or a philosopher? It is paradoxical but not totally wrong to answer "all of the above," so complex and rich is his contractarian theory of the state. His 1975 book, The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan,1 has become a classic exposition of individualist contractarianism. Buchanan was awarded the 1986 Nobel prize in economics for "his development of the contractual and constitutional bases for the theory of economic and political decision-making." The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited The Limits of Liberty as one of the two books in which he presents his "visionary approach."2 Buchanan repeatedly states he does not want to impose his own values, except for individualism as the starting point of his analysis. A "good society" cannot be "defined ind...

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