Democracy by Discussion, Not Debate

James Buchanan on Freedom of Inquiry as a Methodological, not Ideological, Necessity

Originally published in ORDO

Freedom of inquiry remains one of the core tenants of the liberal project. However, in a 1960 letter, James M. Buchanan argued that free inquiry was important for more than just philosophical reasons. In fact, freedom of inquiry and the ability to participate in collective choice processes was at the heart of Buchanan’s methodological commitments to social science and foundational to the entire project of Virginia Political Economy. In this paper, we will show why freedom of inquiry assumes the central place that it holds in Buchanan’s methodology and research more broadly. Insisting on inquiry being open and free to all was not simply an ideological preference held by Buchanan—rather, to him it was the only way forward for Virginia Political Economy.

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