Reclaiming Democratic Classical Liberalism

Classical liberalism is skeptical about governmental organizations “doing good” for people. Instead governments should create the conditions so that people individually (Adam Smith) and in associations (Tocqueville) are empowered to do good for themselves. The market implications of classical liberalism are well-known, but the implications for organizations are controversial. We will take James Buchanan as our guide (with assists from Mill and Dewey). Unpacking the implications of classical liberalism for the “science of associations” (Tocqueville) requires a tour through the intellectual history of the voluntary slavery contract and the voluntary non-democratic constitution. The argument concludes that the classical liberal endorsement of sovereign individuals acting in the marketplace generalizes to the joint action of individuals as the principals in their own organizations and associations.

The article is the lead chapter in the book: Reclaiming Liberalism, 2020, edited by David Hardwick and Leslie Marsh. Palgrave Studies in Classical Liberalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Click here to download the article.