"Perspectives from Philosophy"

by Christopher W. Morris

The 1960’s and 1970’s were important times for political philosophy. For the first half of the century there was little work of interest in political philosophy, the political events of the time notwithstanding. The revival of political philosophy is often credited to John Rawls and his important work A Theory of Justice which appeared in 1971. Brian Barry’s Political Argument, published half a dozen years before, was also seminal. But The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy appeared in 1962 and deserves to be thought of as the first major work of the revival political philosophy. Discussions in the seventies were often dominated by Rawls’ work and Robert Nozick’s infamous Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The third volume of the decade, in my view, is The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Utopia. The first book, co-written with Gordon Tullock, is a well-recognized classic. I think that Limits is even more important and deserves more attention from philosophers than it has received. The development of Winston Bush’s notion a "natural distribution", the account of the emergence of norms in stateless interaction, the distinction between the protective and productive functions of government, the idea of law as capital, and the discussion of "the paradox of being governed" are ideas that put Jim Buchanan in the ranks of the most important political thinkers of our time. Calculus appears to have influenced Rawls’ Theory, and some of the ideas in Limits inspired David Gauthier’s Morals by Agreement and the work of many other philosophers. But with more attention being paid to institutional and constitutional issues, the influence of Jim’s thought should grow.

Philosophy has no Nobel Prize, perhaps something for which my profession may have many reasons to be grateful given how politicized the selections would undoubtedly be. But we must take great pleasure that the few times a philosopher is awarded the Prize for work in another discipline, the standards are as high as those set by Jim Buchanan.



Christopher W. Morris is Professor of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center also at Bowling Green, and a Research Associate at CREA, a research center at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. He is the author of An Essay on the Modern State (Cambridge University Press, 1998), and the editor of The Social Contract Thinkers (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999) and (with Jules Coleman) Rational Commitment and Social Justice: Essays for Gregory Kavka (Cambridge University Press, 1999).