Stability of the Liberal Order, Moral Learning, and Constitutional Choice: An Unresolved Tension in Buchanan’s Political Economy
31 Pages Posted: 14 May 2020
Date Written: April 19, 2020
Buchanan mentions at several points in his oeuvre the necessary role for a ‘constitutional attitude’ – at the individual (‘the private man’) and social level (‘the public man’). Buchanan’s constitutional attitude is both explanatory and evaluative; it explains why citizens value liberty but also highlights one of the necessary conditions for the stability of a free society. We argue that Buchanan’s idea of a ‘constitutional attitude’ is extremely relevant, though underdeveloped. First, it remains an open question what exactly a constitutional attitude means in practice and, consequently, it is unclear what kind of institutions would foster it. Second, and more fundamentally, we believe that the success of his constitutional political economy project depends on some account of moral learning. Although Buchanan stresses the individual aspect of the process of self-constitution, he doesn’t take sufficient account of how the institutional environment and our social relationships structure this process. We discuss to what extent a broadly neo-Aristotelian account of moral learning can provide a more robust foundation for Buchanan’s ideas. We discuss supporting empirical evidence from behavioral economics and derive some normative implications regarding the institutional contexts that would foster a constitutional attitude.
Keywords: James M. Buchanan, Constitutional Attitude, Virtue Ethics, Institutions
JEL Classification: A13, B25, B41, D91
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation