The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan (Collected Works of James M. Buchanan vol. 7) By JAMES M BUCHANAN
Publisher: Liberty Fund Inc. 2009 | 259 Pages | ISBN 0865972265 | PDF | 1.72 MB
Published originally in 1975, "The Limits of Liberty" made James Buchanan's name more widely known than ever before among political philosophers and theorists and established Buchanan, along with John Rawls and Robert Nozick, as one of the three new contractarians, standing on the shoulders of Hobbes, Locke, and Kant. While "The Limits of Liberty" is strongly related to Buchanan's "Calculus of Consent", it is logically prior to the Calculus, according to Helmut Kliemt in the foreword, even though it was published later. Buchanan frames the central idea most cogently in the opening of his preface: "Precepts for living together are not going to be handed down from on high. Men must use their own intelligence in imposing order on chaos, intelligence not in scientific problem-solving but in the more difficult sense of finding and maintaining agreement among themselves. Anarchy is ideal for ideal men; passionate men must be reasonable. Like so many men have done before me, I examine the bases for a society of men and women who want to be free but who recognise the inherent limits that social interdependence places on them".
Summary: Contractarian theory of the state
The book's thesis is two-fold
* Anarchy is undesirable if for no other reason than that adopting some public works will increase Pareto-efficiency (e.g. David Hume's famous illustration of the drainage of the village meadow: p. 49).
* Leviathan-like government is also undesirable. The reason is Buchanan's usual theme that if left unchecked (e.g. constitutionally), government will grow larger than is Pareto-efficient (ch. 6) due to dynamics of public choice (which are briefly touched upon on pp. 129-131 but worked out in far greater detail in The Calculus of Consent).
The topic of the appropriate role and size of government is approached from an economist's rather than a philosopher's perspective (e.g., pp. 11, 98 make this explicit). Considerations are therefore of efficiency rather than justice or philosophy. E.g., property rights are based on contract-type reasons rather than natural-law type reasons such as those argued by John Locke and Robert Nozick (pp. 76-77).
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