Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism.

Author:Lee, Dwight R.
Position:Critical essay

Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism By James M. Buchanan Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 2005. Pp vii, 111. $75.00 cloth.

In this small volume, James Buchanan lays out his understanding of classical liberalism's fundamental principles and how they differ from the principles that inform conservative and modern liberal thought. The book contains twelve recent essays, the first and last of which were written specifically for this work. Every chapter includes interesting insights, along with some surprises. Buchanan has never been afraid to depart from conventional views, and those who think they can pigeonhole him in any particular orthodoxy are invariably mistaken.

The introductory chapter, "Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative," is obviously motivated by "Why I Am Not a Conservative," F. A. Hayek's famous postscript to The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960, pp. 397-411 ). Buchanan recognizes that he and Hayek are often mistaken for conservatives because their opposition to replacing decentralized market arrangements with central planning is indistinguishable from the conservative position. He also recognizes that his emphasis on contractarian restrictions in achieving institutional reform gives the appearance that he favors the status quo over constructivist changes, as conservatives do. He makes clear, however, that he differs from conservatives and from Hayek in his greater willingness to accept constructed change in fundamental rules as long as the change meets the test of agreement by those who will be bound by it.

Buchanan is more concerned than Hayek was with the detailed differences between classical-liberal and conservative principles. Indeed, Hayek saw conservatives as largely devoid of principles. According to Hayek, although a conservative wants to slow change, he "cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving" (Constitution, p. 398); he tends not to "object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes" (p. 401); he "is essentially an opportunist and lacks [political] principles" (p. 401 ); and he lacks "faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment" (p. 400). Buchanan does see conservative principles and contrasts them sharply with the principles that underlie classical liberalism. For example, conservatives see a hierarchy of individuals in which standing serves as a good proxy for...

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