The Intellectual Portrait Series: A Conversation with Anthony de Jasay

The relationship of the individual and the state is the central theme of Anthony de Jasay’s distinguished career. Here he discusses the concepts of power, politics, and freedom that led to such seminal works as The State.

Watch the video and explore related resources at Econlib.

You can also access all de Jasay’s monthly Econlib columns here.

Below are some discussion prompts and other materials related to this video:


4:43 Oxford and Keynes

1- What was the inspiration for de Jasay’s critique of Keynes, and what was the substance of his critique?


8:19 Transitions

2- After retiring from a career in finance, de Jasay turned once again to writing. What factors does he note as prompting his desire to write The State?


13:40 The Minimal State

3- de Jasay says he does not believe that achieving the minimal state is possible. In what two ways does he suggest the notion of the minimal state can be undermined? Is de Jasay too pessimistic? Explain.

4- Kliemt asks de Jasay if there is an inherent tension between his methodological individualism and his apparent assumption of unitary power in The State. How does de Jasay respond, and how convincing is his response?

5- How did James Buchanan influence the trajectory of The State?

6- Why does de Jasay describe contractarianism (like that of Buchanan) as a “logic trap?” What is the “myth of legitimation?”


26:28 The Role of the Political Philosopher

7- Kliemt presses de Jasay on why he feels we should not advocate for “better” government, but de Jasay insists we should neither welcome nor approve of a government which is tolerable. Why, and to what extent do you find this position reasonable?


30:59 On Constitutions and America

8- Why does de Jasay think most people have a totally unjustified faith in constitutions? To what extent do you agree with him?

9- de Jasay says America is “an unbelievably lucky country.” What reasons does he give for this, and how true is his claim?


36:25 Anarchist or Reluctant Archist?

10- While de Jasay calls himself an anarchist, he does offer a caveat. What is it? How does his view of anarchy’s possibility vary over the short and long term?

11- Why does de Jasay insist that collective choice will always be able to preempt individual choice? How does his perspective differ from that of Buchanan?

43:23 Private Contract Enforcement

12- de Jasay believes contract enforcement can still exist in the absence of the state. How does he think this would work, and how plausible do you find this explanation?

13- de Jasay says, “The world is always a small place. This is where I differ from Hayek.” What does he mean by this? With whom would you agree?

14- What would be the role of “mutual help” in stateless contract enforcement, according to de Jasay?

15- Explain why de Jasay notes it’s fashionable, yet misleading, to point to transaction costs in justifying a role for the state.


59:05 The Return of the Free Rider

16- How has the introduction of the “prisoners’ dilemma” made justifications for the state more sophisticated, according to de Jasay?

17- How does paying our taxes encourage free-riding, according to de Jasay?

18- How does de Jasay distinguish between a “right” and a “liberty?” To what extent is his distinction accurate and helpful?



Related References:

de Jasay’s The State.

de Jasay’s Political Economy, Concisely.

de Jasay’s Justice and Its Surroundings.

de Jasay’s Social Contract, Free Ride: A Study of the Public Goods Problem

The Best of the Online Library of Liberty, “Anthony de Jasay, ‘Liberalism and Democracy‘ (1985).

Liberty Matters, Anthony de Jasay and the Political Economy of the State.

The Intellectual Portrait Series: A Conversation with Anthony de Jasay (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).

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