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Mises, as well as Buchanan’s On Classical Liberalism versus Socialism

The writings of Ludwig von Mises and James M. Buchanan are a reflection of the most outstanding of the classic liberal intellectual tradition. Since the year 100 years ago marked Mises’ Socialism 1’s publication Mises’ Socialism, and because 2023 marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Buchanan, the author, it is the perfect time to reflect on their contribution to the field. Both advocate ethical and methodological individualism and private property rights. They also support the concept of a minimal government, a market economy, as well as a liberal democracy. They both agree that economic and political systems and decisions should be evaluated by respecting the value of liberty for individuals as well as the institutions that defend the right to freedom.

Other authors have analyzed the major aspects of Mises as well as Buchanan’s economic analysis. This paper will contrast the various political opinions, specifically, ones that address the concepts of force and consent and the relation between democracy and liberalism as well as the critique against autocratic socialist socialism.

Consent and force

Social philosophy focuses on the nature of social structures which are the beliefs, values, and actions that unite people or divide them. According to Mises, the traditional liberal society is founded on the notion of consent by the individual and the establishment of contracts and the underlying nature of social cooperation and the dynamics that result from these. In that kind of model, the State only has the duty of protecting the property and life of individuals from criminality, violence, or aggression (200 497, 200). With the protection of private property, individuals can attain peace of mind and “leisure and the peace of mind that only the division of labor can make possible” (271).

Contrary to this, he claims that the attack of the socialists on private ownership of the production process encourages violence that leads to the destruction of resources in the economy (40 60,61,222) as well as, more generally, the destruction of achievements in civilization (118). Mises wrote his work during the period of the spread of communism. However, his argument is timeless in light of the ongoing struggle with consent and violence: “Violence and Law, War and Peace, are the two poles of social life” (34). From this perspective, the term “evolution” means moving away from fighting, violence, and force and moving closer to law, consent, and peace.

So, it’s normal that Mises warns of the possibility of destruction as the result of violence committed by the collectivists and the enforcement of force on human existence. On this subject, he clarifies and warns: “To make Collectivism a reality, one must first destroy every social existence, then create a collective state. (…) Any attempt to force the will of humans to serve things they don’t desire are doomed to be a failure. An organization can’t flourish only if it is based on the desires of those that are that are organized and fulfills their purpose” (263).

In his way, Buchanan uses metaphors to define two kinds of situations that are different from the liberal classical model of voluntary exchanges and individual consent. Buchanan speaks of the “jungle” to convey the picture of a society that is not able to maintain order or justice. He suggests that to get out of this chaotic environment for good; people choose to adhere to agreed-upon rules, and to the extent they are successful in doing this, they accumulate social capital, which is defined as an orderly society. In the same way, the destabilization or elimination of these rules is “a major step backward into the anarchistic jungle” (66) or “the destruction of social capital, with all of the consequences therefrom” (164).

Buchanan uses a different metaphor, that of the mythical Leviathan, to condemn the State’s overt coercion and force in the form of interference in individual markets and property, which is evident in the expansion of state power in contemporary democracies as well as the subsequent growth in taxation and fiscal costs, as well as deficits in the public sector. In a lecture in 1990 following the fall of communist regimes within the Soviet orbit, the author draws a significant distinction between Leviathan and the socialist system of private property that is not a socialist one: “The arguments for Leviathan’s extensions are not versions of the socialist’s dream; they are, instead, simple efforts to claim a public interest in a single sector’s private profit” (18). Buchanan views the current unrestricted State as a “monster” that haunts democracies by limiting personal liberty and property and wants to determine its paths of action and their unintended negative effects and suggest strategies to prevent them through the use of constitutional and post-constitutional restrictions.

Liberalism and Democracy

“Mises and Buchanan successfully engage in such ‘speculation to offer a political philosophy defined in terms of substantive ends: the defense of individual liberty and private property, equality before the law, voluntary social cooperation, the achievement of peace, and the benefits of general prosperity.”

Political philosophy focuses on the underlying principles and justifications of the political system and its practices. According to Adam Smith, the disquisitions on “the systems of civil government (…) if they are just, and reasonable, and practicable, are of all the works of speculation the most useful” (186-87). As I mentioned previously, Mises and Buchanan successfully use this type of “speculation” to offer a political philosophy that is based on fundamental goals, which include the protection of private liberties and the private right to property rights, legal equality, social cooperationcooperation as well as the pursuit of peace, and the advantages that general prosperity brings. They also believe that the limited government is the structure that is the best protection of the basic principles of a democratic society.

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Jane S. King

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