Liberty Matters

The Faustian Bargain with the Ruling Class

Steve Davies asks: “If the existence of political power means there will inevitably be a ruling class of one kind or other that will use that power for its benefit and come to be defined by its relation to it, then unless you think that anarchism is both possible and desirable, there will always be a ruling class. In that case you will have to ask what kind of ruling class you want or prefer (maybe fear least) and how do you contain it?”
This question implies a type of Faustian bargain.[69] Even those who are aware of the dangers of empowering a ruling class (or classes) may support empowering a state anyway in order to capture the perceived benefits of the non-anarchic provision of law and order. This is true for both students of society and for those actually participating in creating or modifying the rules for a social order.
Presumably, whether in their roles as observers or as citizens, most will decide whether or not it is worthwhile to entertain the Faustian bargain only after comparing the conditions they expect to emerge under a system dominated by a ruling class to the conditions they expect under anarchy or self-governance. The decision as to which system to support will then be further complicated by what kind of deal they expect to be able to successfully obtain through negotiation. If the actual negotiation process is expected to be costly or to involve significant concessions, then anarchic or self-governing alternatives might look better than they would have under different bargaining circumstances.
This leads directly to what is arguably one of the most difficult problems in constitutional political economy: the problem of how to create initial conditions in which the diverse members of a society see eye to eye well enough to come together for negotiation.[70] This requires that all members of the social group have a sufficiently strong shared understanding of what constitutes appropriate conduct. If a group of people can’t agree on the rules for what constitutes a civil conversation, then there would seem to be little-to-no hope for their coming to mutual agreement on the content of a society-wide constitution.
The problem of shared understanding is most difficult when there are fractious divisions within society. This is why Jim Buchanan and Gordon Tullock viewed their theory of constitutions as the product of nonmarket exchanges as severely limited in its application to classed societies:  “our analysis of the constitution-making process has little relevance for a society that is characterized by a sharp cleavage of the population into distinguishable social classes or separate racial, religious, or ethnic groupings sufficient to encourage the formation of predictable political coalitions.”[71] Historically, groups that do not abide by the same behavioral norms as the most influential social group are often left out of the process of law or constitution-making entirely.
Unfortunately, divided societies are also those in which a ruling class or classes can be expected to be most dangerous to those over whom they wield power. The result is that those most in need of constitutional protections against the ruling class are those most likely to be left out of the constitutional conversation. As such, the problem of inclusiveness is the first significant problem that must be resolved in order to proceed with any conversation about the design of institutions to constrain the ruling class.
[69.] Vincent Ostrom, 1984, “Why Governments Fail: An Inquiry into the Use of Instruments of Evil to Do Good." In The Theory of Public Choice—II, ed. James M. Buchanan and Robert D. Tollison (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press), p. 422-36.
[70.] See, for example, chapter 1 of James M. Buchanan, The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2000 [1975]).
[71.] James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy, Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1999 [1962]); Quote: </titles/1063#Buchanan_0102-03_213>.