Reflections of a Political Economist: Selected Articles on Government Policies and Political Processes

By William A. Niskanen | Go to book overview

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

Liberalism, by James M. Buchanan
(Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2005), 106 pp.
The main title of this book, of course, expresses James Buchanan's personal agreement with the famous 1960 essay by F. A. Hayek on “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” Most of this small book, however, is better described by the subtitle. For this book is the only summary of Buchanan's important contribution to the philosophy of ethics.Only the first and last of the 12 chapters were written specifically for this book, primarily to summarize the development of Buchanan's personal perspective on the book's two titles. The other 10 chapters are revisions of lectures that Buchanan has presented over the past decade. This small, dense book merits careful reading and reflection, chapter by chapter rather than at one sitting.Buchanan, like Hayek, has long tried to distinguish his views as a classical liberal from those of a conservative—views that are often confused because classical liberals and conservatives have often been tactical allies. He differentiates these views primarily on the following four dimensions:
1. Classical liberals are open to consensual change; conservatives more generally support the stability of the social order.
2. Classical liberals assume a natural equality of humans; conservatives assume a natural hierarchy.
3. Classical liberals assume that individual responsibility is a necessary corollary of individual freedom; conservatives are more inclined to paternalism.

This review first appeared in the Cato Journal 26, no. 3 (Fall 2006). My thanks to
the Cato Journal for its permission to republish this article.

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