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Federalism and the Enhancement of Individual Liberty in the Thought of James Buchanan
Unformatted Document Text:  2 essentially espoused a return by students of government to the roots of the American founding to revive the beliefs of the Founders in a limited, divided government based on individual, negative rights. These are, obviously, values that any conservative admires. This charge, to return to basically conservative values profoundly influenced other conservative economists and political scientists, for example William Riker who was the father of the public choice movement in political science in the United States. In a 1995 interview with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Buchanan was asked about the political views of public choice scholars. When asked if he thought that many public choice economists were politically conservative, Buchanan agreed, but with an important qualification: I think it’s an accurate description – but it’s an accurate description for a reason. If you take the story I’ve given you, if you recognize that the traditional way we looked at politics had a lot of romance in it, then Public Choice comes along and removes the romance. I think the natural outcome of that is you’re going to be more skeptical about government than you would have been otherwise. 1 In the area of federalism specifically, Buchanan is clearly conservative. He’s a staunch defender of the rights of individuals, a supporter of smaller political units in a system of shared governmental power, and a vigorous opponent of large, inefficient central governments. Over the years his work has emphasized three positive effects that federal systems have over centralized systems. For Buchanan federal systems create more democratic efficiency, protect the rights of individuals, and promote community values. These three themes will serve as the organizational structure of the paper. One can see these three themes in both his work that directly relates to federalism and his “classic” public choice books, such as Calculus of Consent. 2

Authors: Lynch, George.
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2
essentially espoused a return by students of government to the roots of the American founding to
revive the beliefs of the Founders in a limited, divided government based on individual, negative
rights. These are, obviously, values that any conservative admires. This charge, to return to
basically conservative values profoundly influenced other conservative economists and political
scientists, for example William Riker who was the father of the public choice movement in
political science in the United States.
In a 1995 interview with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Buchanan was asked
about the political views of public choice scholars. When asked if he thought that many public
choice economists were politically conservative, Buchanan agreed, but with an important
qualification:
I think it’s an accurate description – but it’s an accurate description
for a reason. If you take the story I’ve given you, if you recognize
that the traditional way we looked at politics had a lot of romance
in it, then Public Choice comes along and removes the romance. I
think the natural outcome of that is you’re going to be more
skeptical about government than you would have been otherwise.
1
In the area of federalism specifically, Buchanan is clearly conservative. He’s a staunch
defender of the rights of individuals, a supporter of smaller political units in a system of shared
governmental power, and a vigorous opponent of large, inefficient central governments.
Over the years his work has emphasized three positive effects that federal systems have
over centralized systems. For Buchanan federal systems create more democratic efficiency,
protect the rights of individuals, and promote community values. These three themes will serve
as the organizational structure of the paper. One can see these three themes in both his work that
directly relates to federalism and his “classic” public choice books, such as Calculus of Consent.
2


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