The Protective State

The perceived severity of the tension for Buchanan’s constitutional project increased incrementally from Roger Congelton’s tension—revealed to be apparent rather than substantial—to Gerald Gaus’s reassurances that Buchanan’s constitutional project can survive the amputation of its original Hobbesian origins. And then there is Christopher J. Coyne’s essay on the protective state, which offers a distressingly severe challenge to the viability of the constitutional project itself. The protective state—Buchanan’s term for the provision of law enforcement and territorial defense from which derives the legitimacy of the government’s monopoly on coercive force—is prior even to the productive state’s Wicksellian politics as exchange. For some classical liberals, the protective state is the exclusive duty within which constitutional rules should contain political decision-making. If, as Coyne argues, the erosion of constraints on government power is an inherent consequence of the performance of those protective functions, the project of constitutional political economy might offer at most the possibility of postponing, rather than averting, the erosion of liberal societies within the context of nation-states.

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