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 12: The Emergence of a Classical Liberal: A Confessional Exercise

James M. Buchanan


INTRODUCTION I have subtitled this book The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism. In this concluding chapter, I propose to defend and, in the process, to explain my own efforts both in this book and in other outlets. What have I tried to do here and elsewhere, and why? In other words, what is the nature of my whole enterprise? The short answer is provided in the subtitle itself. I have used the term ‘classical liberalism’ to describe the social order that I can see – as an imagined vision that might exist without violation of the constraints imposed by nature, including those that limit human behavior. In other words, classical liberalism sketches out the world as I should like to bring into being were I granted omnipotence. In this sense, classical liberalism, in its full flowering, becomes my own personalized utopia – a perfected ideal that is not totally impossible of attainment even while it remains well beyond the range even of probabilistic expectations. Classical liberalism in this sense becomes a ‘realistic utopia,’ a term invoked as an important element by John Rawls in his short monograph The Law of Peoples (1999). The modifying adjective here, realistic, implies at a minimum a two-set classification among possible utopias. In his early discussion, Rawls refers to Rousseau’s opening of The Social Contract (1762, [1950]), which promises ‘taking men as they are and laws as they might be.’ Although we can perhaps understand what Rousseau, and Rawls, had in mind here, the implicit presumption...

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