Maintaining Agreement

“And the main, most serious problem of social order and progress is . . . the problem of having the rules obeyed, or preventing cheating. As far as I can see there is no intellectual solution of that problem. No social machinery of “sanctions” will keep the game from breaking up in a quarrel, or a fight (the game of being a society can rarely just dissolve!) unless the participants have an irrational preference to having it go on even when they seem individually to get the worst of it. Or else the society must be maintained by force, from without — for a dictator is not a member of the society he rules — and then it is questionable whether it can be called a society in the moral sense.”

Frank H. Knight. “Intellectual Confusion on Morals and Economics” (Jan 1935. The International Journal of Ethics.)

“Precepts for living together are not going to be handed down from on high. Men must use their own intelligence in imposing order on chaos, intelligence not in scientific problem-solving but in the more difficult sense of finding and maintaining agreement among themselves. Anarchy is ideal for ideal men; passionate men must be reasonable. Like so many men have done before me, I examine the bases for a society of men and women who want to be free but who recognize the inherent limits that social interdependence places on them.”

James M. Buchanan. Preface to “The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan.” 1975.

“Burgeoning budgets are an outgrowth of the American liberal tradition which assigns to government the instrumental role in creating the “good society.” The arrogance of the administrative and, particularly, the judicial elite in changing basic law by fiat arises from the same source. If the “good society” can first be defined, and, second, produced by governmental action, then men finding themselves in positions of discretionary power, whether in legislative, executive, or judicial roles, are placed under some moral obligation to move society toward the defined ideal.

. . .  If our Leviathan is to be controlled, politicians and judges must come to have respect for limits. Their continued efforts to use assigned authority to impose naively formulated constructs of social order must produce a decline in their own standing. If leaders have no sense of limits, what must be expected of those who are limited by their ukases? If judges lose respect for law, why must citizens respect judges? If personal rights are subjected to arbitrary confiscation at the hands of the state, why must individuals refrain from questioning the legitimacy of government?”

James M. Buchanan. The Threat of Leviathan. Chap 9 of “The Limits of Liberty.”

End Notes

I had to look up what the word “ukases” meant. It comes from the Russian ukaz which means edict or decree. So ukases are authoritative orders, edicts or decrees.

It seems to me that to maintain agreement, people have to, first, abide by agreed upon rules that constrain behavior (that’s the constitution) and, second, follow procedures that are “good”. The outcome can only emerge and not determined by anybody, never mind the czar and his ukases.



Author: Atanu Dey


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