≡ Menu

Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 441 of my late Nobel-laureate colleague James Buchanan’s Spring/Summer 1994 Cato Journal article, “Notes on the Liberal Constitution,” as this article is reprinted in Choice, Contract, and Constitutions (2001), which is volume 16 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan (footnote deleted):

The classical liberals of the 18th century, whether represented by the members of the Scottish Enlightenment or by the American Founding Fathers, were highly skeptical about the capability and willingness of politics and politicians to further the interests of the ordinary citizen.  Governments were considered to be a necessary evil, institutions to be protected from, but made necessary by the elementary fact that all persons are not angels.  Governments, along with those persons who were empowered as their agents of authority, were not to be trusted.  Constitutions were necessary, primarily as means to constrain collective authority in all of its potential extensions.  State power was something that the classical liberals feared, and the problem of constitutional design was thought to be that of insuring that such power would be effectively limited.

DBx: In her fictional tale Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean dismisses as false Buchanan’s frequently made claim that a major inspiration for his work is the political theory of the American founders, especially that of James Madison.  (Again, with absolutely no evidence or good reason, she alleges that Buchanan’s inspiration was John C. Calhoun and the Southern Agrarian Donald Davidson.  She simply fabricates this connection out of nothing but the fact that some scholars have correctly noted that Calhoun was among the very many thinkers throughout history who, like Buchanan, have pondered means of avoiding majoritarian tyranny.  As I point out in this post, if MacLean’s method of doing intellectual history is acceptable, then, using that same method, I can prove that her major influence is Joe McCarthy.)

An astonishing fact about MacLean’s dismissal of Buchanan’s claim of being influenced by Madison is that this dismissal reveals that MacLean is apparently ignorant of the thrust of Madison’s political theory.