May 5-6 I’m joining a Mercatus Manuscript Workshop, on Paul Dragos Aligica, Peter Boettke and Vald Tarko’s latest manuscript: Public Administration and the Classical Liberal Tradition. Modern Political Economy Foundations. The debate allows me to ride a familiar horse: the problem of the political relevance of classical liberalism in contemporary societies. In a world inundated by populism and in which the minimal state is buried since the Archduke Ferdinand was killed in Sarajevo is there any political scope for the enlightened intellectual tradition of classical liberalism?
The book forges a “possibility argument”: it is possible to develop a theory of governance and public administration inspired by classical liberalism. The manuscript’s confidence goes beyond the logical consistency of such a theory; it claims that the classical liberal perspective on governance and public administration is already out there in the real world. I cannot dodge some skepticism.
At the theoretical level, a consistent classical liberal theory of governance and public administration faces formidable challenges. Even if such a theory is conceivable, it is hard to conceptualize a mechanism that guarantees that social and institutional arrangements evolve consistently with the normative requirements imposed by freedom. From the practical side, if the theory operates, it does it in disguise. Examples of self-governing social interactions that trace their roots to classical liberalism but are in fact justified on the basis of interventionist views of autonomy are plenty.
The book is important for a deep and learned articulation of the debate on the political relevance of classical liberalism. Far too many issues are unresolved for a logically consistent possibility argument. I’m sure the authors will fiercely battle for their view and expect plenty of food for thoughts to refine my view.”