Consent, Democracy and the Future of Liberalism

Originally published in The Review of Austrian Economics

In this paper, I examine the ways in which liberal theory and democratic procedure have sought to address the justificatory challenge posed by the existence of coercive states, given the liberal account of individuals as naturally free and equal. In doing so, I invoke the justifications for the limited state advanced by the Austrian school of political economy, referring in particular to the work of F.A.Hayek. I argue that the scepticism this school of theory advances with regard to the effectiveness and desirability of state intervention into the affairs of free individuals, offers a better approach to understanding state legitimacy than does the ideal theory often relied upon by liberal political theorists. I further argue that the simple inclusion of majoritarian democratic procedure as the method for deciding whether, when and how states should intervene into the affairs of free individuals cannot legitimise these interventions in a manner consistent with the demands of liberalism. I finally employ the Austrian school’s scepticism about the state’s capacity to ‘do good’ to advance a proposal for reducing the degree to which any individual need be coerced by a state seeking to advance particular ends rather, than to enforce general rules.

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