Introduction: symposium on Anthony de Jasay.

Author:Lynch, G. Patrick
Position::Critical essay

Anthony de Jasay has had an important and yet unique place among the pantheon of distinguished contemporary liberal thinkers of the past forty years. Jasay's career has had three distinct phases that have allowed him to reach both academic and popular audiences interested in markets, politics, and social issues. Originally trained as an economist at Oxford, he has written both important "serious" academic works and more widely read popular columns in the spirit of many of the great popularizers of free markets. He has produced important and provocative books of political philosophy and social choice theory. For this issue of The Independent Review, we asked five scholars familiar with Jasay's work to address various aspects of his writings and assess his impact and insights.

Born in Hungary in 1928, Jasay fled life behind the Iron Curtain in 1948, eventually settling in Australia and studying economics at Western Australia University. He excelled and earned his way to Oxford University in 1950, becoming a fellow at Nuffield College. His research from this period was more conventionally academic in the sense that he published in mainstream economics journals on topics such as international monetary flows and exchange rates. This research led to a career in banking and business. After moving to France, Jasay entered the third phase of his life, the one for which he is best known as an author of books and articles that focus on politics and economics for a wider, interdisciplinary audience as well as of material for the public at large on some of the key insights economics provides. During this third phase, Jasay has also been a frequent contributor to The Independent Review, writing on a number of topics. In addition, he has been interviewed for the journal as recently as 2011 (Wolf 2011).

His most well-known book is The State, published in 1985, which some of the authors discuss extensively in this issue. In this work, Jasay provides as realistic and unromantic a vision of the foundations of government as one can imagine. He argues that to understand the state we must view it not as a benevolent collection of interests corralled by effective institutions working together in the public interest but rather as a single actor with self-interested goals. This argument leads him to describe at some length what he calls "the adversary state," which both provides general public goods and necessarily pays for these goods by coercively taking money from the citizenry. But once he models the state as a unitary, self-interested entity, all sorts of predictable and unhappy consequences must be confronted by democratic theorists and fans of...

To continue reading