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Foreword - James M. Buchanan, The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, vol. 7 (The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan) 
The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, Foreword by Harmut Kliemt, 20 vols. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999-2002). Vol. 7 The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan.
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Foreword © 2000 Liberty Fund, Inc. The Limits of Liberty, by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock © 1975 by The University of Chicago.
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To the memory of my colleague
Winston C. Bush
And the main, most serious problem of social order and progress is ... the problem of having the rules obeyed, or preventing cheating. Asfar as Ican see there is no intellectual solution of that problem. No social machinery of “sanctions” will keep the game from breaking up in a quarrel, or a fight (the game of being a society can rarely just dissolve!) unless the participants have an irrational preference to having it go on even when they seem individually to get the worst of it. Or else the society must be maintained by force, from without--for a dictator is not a member of the society he rules--and then it is questionable whether it can be called a society in the moral sense.
—Frank H. Knight, “Intellectual Confusion on Morals and Economics”
When The Limits of Liberty was published in 1975, the name James M. Buchanan became widely known even among the less well informed political philosophers and political theorists.1 The book may be seen as a contribution to at least two debates that were thriving at the time of its publication. On the one hand, it built on and contributed to the “explorations in the theory of anarchy” (as the title of a volume edited by Gordon Tullock in 1972 is called), and thus, on a debate that at the time was one of the focal interests of the Virginia School of Political Economy.2 On the other hand, the book contributed to the debate about political contractarianism originating from John Rawls’s 1971 book A Theory of Justice.3 Whereas, quite regrettably, the Virginia debate about anarchy was already well beyond its peak when The Limits of Liberty was published, the discussion of political contractarianism among philosophers, economists, and political scientists was still on its ascent. Within this debate, besides Rawls and Robert Nozick, Buchanan holds a central place as one of the “three new contractarians.”4
The term “new contractarians” naturally provokes the question, who were the old ones? Now, as with the new, there certainly were more than three old contractarians. Yet, clearly, the three most prominent figures in the contractarian tradition are Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant. In the literature, Buchanan is seen to be standing on Hobbes’s shoulders, Nozick on Locke’s, and Rawls on Kant’s. As far as Rawls and Nozick are concerned, this classification seems natural. Rawls is a self-declared Kantian, and Nozick starts explicitly from Lockean premises. Buchanan, however, would not classify himself as a Hobbesian, and rightly so. For Buchanan’s deepest ethical and normative political concern is the respect for the autonomy of the individual person. This concern is Kantian, not Hobbesian.5
Within the corpus of Buchanan’s work, The Limits of Liberty has presumably the strongest relationship to The Calculus of Consent.6 In this regard, some additional observations deserve to be mentioned. On the one hand, the basic normative premise of the Calculus requires that politics be conceived as a Paretian enterprise operating to everyone’s advantage. The Limits of Liberty is complementary and logically prior to (even though it is chronologically later than) the Calculus in that it characterizes the status quo from the point where Paretian politics starts and at the same time describes conceivable processes of interindividual agreement that might lead from a natural equilibrium to a political one. On the other hand, The Calculus of Consent is a forerunner specifically of the contractarianism of The Limits of Liberty and generally of post-Rawlsian “new contractarianism.” In particular, Buchanan’s unduly neglected appendix to the Calculus, “Marginal Notes on Reading Political Philosophy,” foreshadowed, at a time when political philosophy was practically dead, many arguments that would later be popularized in other works, including, of course, The Limits of Liberty.
[1. ]James M. Buchanan, The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), volume 7 in the series.
[2. ]Gordon Tullock, ed., Explorations in the Theory of Anarchy (Blacksburg, Va.: Center for Study of Public Choice, 1972).
[3. ]John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971).
[4. ]Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974).
[5. ]This somewhat down-to-earth Kantianism of Buchanan is also clearly brought out in some of the essays on constitutional political economy, volume 16 in the series, Choice, Contract, and Constitutions; and the philosophical essays, volume 17 in the series, Moral Science and Moral Order.
[6. ]James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962), volume 3 in the series. Hereafter referred to as the Calculus.