Advertisement

Buchanan’s Social Contract Unveiled

  • Enrico Colombatto
Chapter
Part of the Remaking Economics: Eminent Post-War Economists book series (EPWE)

Abstract

Although public opinion and most of the academic community reject libertarian anarchy, explaining why governments are legitimate remains a major and much neglected problem. This paper discusses the foundations of social-contract theorising with emphasis on the Hobbesian approach. It then examines the constitutional alternatives (including Buchanan’s) and draws three main critical conclusions. First, the Hobbesian construction is not a social contract dictated by nature, since the individuals’ instinct to survive does not necessarily justify the presence of a watchman. Second, the constitutional contract takes the status quo for granted, fails to identify the signatories, and ignores the presence of dissenters. Finally, Buchanan’s version of the constitutional approach shares the Hobbesian perspective, and focuses on describing the bargaining process, rather than on assessing the legitimacy of government. Although it is a fitting description of the context prevailing in today’s Western democracies, Buchanan’s view ends up replacing the rule of law dear to the classical-liberal tradition with the rule of compromise.

Notes

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Leonardo Baggiani, Paul Lewis, Alain Marciano and John Meadowcroft for their comments on a previous draft.

References

  1. Baier, A. (1994). Moral Prejudices. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Beraldo, S. (2018, January). An Impossibility Result on Nudging Grounded in the Theory of Intentional Action (IREF Working Paper Series). IREF, Paris. Google Scholar
  3. Brennan, G., & Buchanan, J. (1985). The Reason of Rules. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Buchanan, J. (2000 [1975]). The Limits of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (Reprinted by Liberty Fund, Indianapolis).Google Scholar
  5. Buchanan, J. (2001 [1978]). Law and the Invisible Hand. In B. H. Siegan (Ed.), The Interaction of Economics and the Law (pp. 127–138). Lexington: D.C. Heath (Reprinted in Moral Science and Moral Order, by Liberty Fund, Indianapolis).Google Scholar
  6. Buchanan, J., & Tullock, G. (1962). The Calculus of Consent. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Colombatto, E., & Tavormina, V. (forthcoming). Private Property: Origins. In A. Marciano & G. B. Ramello (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Law and Economics. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  8. Cordes, C., & Schubert, C. (2007). Toward a Naturalistic Foundation of the Social Contract. Constitutional Political Economy, 18, 35–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. De Jasay, A. (1991). Choice, Contract, Consent: A Restatement of Liberalism. London: Institute of Economic Affairs.Google Scholar
  10. De Jasay, A. (2005). Freedom from a Mainly Logical Perspective. Philosophy, 80, 565–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Goldman, A. (1988). Moral Knowledge. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Hayek, F. (1945). The Use of Knowledge in Society. American Economic Review, 35, 519–530.Google Scholar
  13. Hayek, F. (1960). The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Hayek, F. (1976). The Mirage of Social Justice, vol 2 of Law, Legislation and Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  15. Holcombe, R. G. (2004). Government: Unnecessary but Inevitable. The Independent Review, 8, 325–342.Google Scholar
  16. Huemer, M. (2013). The Problem of Political Authority. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hume, D. (2001 [1752]). Of the Original Contract. In P. B. Kurland & R. Lerner (Eds.), The Founders’ Constitution (Vol. 1, Chapter 2, pp. 49–52). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
  18. Meadowcroft, J. (2014). Exchange, Unanimity and Consent: A Defence of the Public Choice Account of Power. Public Choice, 158, 85–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Müller, C. (1998). The Veil of Uncertainty Unveiled. Constitutional Political Economy, 9, 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rees, J. C. (1963). Hayek on Liberty. Philosophy, 38, 346–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rothbard, M. N. (1974). Justice and Property Rights. In S. Blumenfeld (Ed.), Property in a Humane Economy (pp. 101–122). La Salle: Open Court.Google Scholar
  22. Rothbard, M. N. (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Rothstein, B. (2009). Creating Political Legitimacy. American Behavioral Scientist, 53, 311–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Sen, A. (2009). The Idea of Justice. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  25. Servant, R. (2017). Let’s Agree Not to Agree: F. A. Hayek’s ‘Calculus of Consent. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 41, 259–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Smith, A. (2018 [1776]). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Vol. I and II of the Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
  27. Spooner, L. (1867–1870). No Treason. Boston: Published by the Author.Google Scholar
  28. Sugden, R. (1993). Normative Judgments and Spontaneous Order: The Contractarian Element in Hayek’s Thought. Constitutional Political Economy, 4, 393–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Vanberg, V. J. (2004). The Status Quo in Contractarian-Constitutionalist Perspective. Constitutional Political Economy, 15, 153–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Wagner, R. E., & Gwartney, J. D. (1988). Public Choice and Constitutional Order. In J. D. Gwartney & R. E. Wagner (Eds.), Public Choice and Constitutional Economics (pp. 29–56). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Enrico Colombatto
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Università di TorinoTurinItaly
  2. 2.Institut de Recherches Économiques et FiscalesParisFrance

Personalised recommendations