The soul of classical liberalism

Here is one of my favorite essays by my colleague James Buchanan, The Soul of Classical Liberalism. Buchanan starts this essay by noting that we have lost the “soul” of classical liberalism in the twentieth century. A new political vision is needed desperately if we are to build that “shining city on the hill.” I have long maintained that Buchanan is one of the last romantic economists, in the spirit of his mentor Frank Knight. By romantic I mean an economist whose work is driven by an intensely personal vision, and driven by an intense desire to root out the truth. Buchanan, perhaps more than any other economist, understands the tension between the objective and the subjective in economic science. Given our commitment to improving the real world, we cannot avoid objective standards for good outcomes. But at the same time economic values and costs are deeply subjective as expressed in neoclassical or Austrian economics. Buchanan’s critics, who do not generally understand this tension, think he is working on pseudo-problems or engaged in mere taxonomy. In contrast, I think Buchanan is far ahead of his time. We are not yet at the point where we can understand the full import of what he is up to. This essay is one good place to get started on his central problems.


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