Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative

Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative

The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism

James M. Buchanan

Nobel Laureate James Buchanan collects in this volume original and recent hard-to-find essays exploring liberalism and conservatism as distinct ways of looking at and thinking about the realm of human interaction. Classical liberalism is presented here as a coherent political and economic position, as distinguished from both modern liberalism and conservatism.

Chapter 1: Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative

James M. Buchanan

Subjects: economics and finance, public choice theory, politics and public policy, public choice


INTRODUCTION The title for this book, and for this introductory chapter, refers to one of F.A. Hayek’s most famous and familiar essays ‘Why I am not a conservative,’ which he appended to his treatise The Constitution of Liberty published in 1960. Hayek felt that it was necessary to stake a claim for identification as a classical liberal and, in so doing, to forestall the co-option of the term ‘liberal’ by those who would subvert the time-tested emphasis on individual liberty itself. For Hayek, for whom socialism remained his lifelong bête noir, conservative bedfellows were welcome enough, but he saw no reason to crawl under the terminological blanket. More specifically, my title is stimulated by Timothy Roth’s Equality, Rights, and the Autonomous Self (2004), to which he adds the subtitle Toward a Conservative Economics. Since, in a very broad sense, the position laid out by Roth, and earlier by Hayek, does not differ essentially from my own, I feel it obligatory to defend classical liberalism, as Hayek did more than four decades ago, as a term that aims to be descriptive of a coherent political philosophy that differs in its basic elements from that which is summarized under the rubric ‘conservatism.’ Much more than ‘economics’ or even ‘political economy’ is involved here, and it is almost a category mistake to apply such a general term to a possible stance on the direction of public policy toward the openness of markets for a particular time and place. Conservatism and liberalism...

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