James M. Buchanan’s Contractarianism and Modern Liberalism

VIKTOR J. VANBERG
CONSTITUTIONAL POLITICAL ECONOMY 25.1 (2014): 18-38

Abstract: This paper contrasts Buchanan’s contractarian–constitutional liberalism with Hayek’s evolutionary liberalism and Rothbards free-market liberalism as representative branches of the classical liberal tradition. While Hayek and Rothbard focus on individual liberty as private autonomy, Buchanan posits that individual sovereignty should be recognized as the fundamental normative premise of liberalism. He insists that a consistent application of this premise requires liberals to respect individuals as sovereigns not only in their capacity as private law subjects but also at the constitutional level of choice where, as sovereign citizens, they choose, jointly with their fellow citizens, the rules under which they wish to live. It is argued that by supplementing the notion of individual liberty as private autonomy with the concept of individual sovereignty in constitutional matters Buchanan lays the theoretical foundation for complementing the well-developed liberal theory of the market with a consistent liberal theory of democracy.