Liberty Matters

Loren Lomasky’s comment


I was once privy to a conversation between Jim Buchanan and Geoff Brennan in which Jim put forth a characteristically hyperbolic hypothesis.  “Jim, that’s not what you really believe!” Geoff corrected and then explained in some detail why that comment didn’t represent the considered Buchanan view.  Somewhat sheepishly, Jim concurred.  If the principal party himself has a lesser understanding of Buchanan’s real views than Geoff does, who am I to dispute him? 
Nonetheless, I believe that those commentators whose interpretations Geoff is correcting have a point – including this commentator.  Although Buchanan clearly rejects anarchism for deep programmatic reasons, he shares with the anarchist a profound suspicion of state “solutions” to just about any problem.  To put it another way, his inability to make the full leap into anarchism is for him a matter of regret.  Similarly, he rejects homo economicus as an accurate depiction of people in nonmarket contexts including, of course, the political arena.  Nonetheless, he insists for methodological reasons that this is the proper model to bring to Public Choice analysis.  (This may be his parallel to Rawls’s commitment to the rationality of maximin.)  Buchanan concedes the Brennan-Lomasky point that in situations where individuals are unable to act decisively to produce desired outcomes, their interest in expressive activity may come to the fore.  For him, unlike us, this was regarded as something of a side point, offering only modest analytical gains.  We respectfully disagree.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there already is a Ph.D. dissertation in progress that aims to set out a synoptic statement of Jim Buchanan’s expressed views.  That’s a worthwhile project.  Also worthwhile, however, is thinking about how to harness the potential of Buchanan’s theories even in ways their author may have ignored or even explicitly rejected.  That, I believe, is what the Brennan respondents are up to here, including the one concerning whom I am able to speak with some authority.