Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative
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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.
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Chapter 7: Classical Liberalism as an Organizing Ideal

James M. Buchanan


* INTRODUCTION At the well-attended London general meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in October 2002, I found myself muttering, both to myself and others, ‘the gathering of the clan’ as I greeted fellow members from across the world, many of whom I saw only at these occasions. I think that ‘clan’ is the appropriate wording here, although ‘tribe’ might be a good substitute. There is clearly something that distinguishes members of this group from outsiders. We can, of course, say that we share an adherence to principles of classical liberalism, but this classification does not, in itself, get us very far. I want to go deeper into the questions that are raised in acknowledging the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – between those for whom these principles carry normative motivation and those for whom any such motivation seems lacking. Why do these principles attract us, as an organizing ideal for the sort of social order that we prefer, when they fail to attract others? What is there about us that makes us so different in this respect? My concern is not with those whom we might call the ‘classical socialists’ – those who were indeed trapped in the ‘fatal conceit’ identified by Hayek; those who genuinely believed that persons would be transformed ‘after the revolution’; those who refused to acknowledge that incentives continue to matter; those who somehow thought that stylized shadow prices would emerge omnisciently from the planning boards. Hayek, and the classical liberals of his generation, most of whom were...

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