Anthony de Jasay: Political Philosopher Par Excellence

Anthony de Jasay isn’t a household name, but he should be. The former Parisian banker is one of the most original thinkers in political philosophy today, and his insights on the nature of liberty, justice, and the state have major implications for how we might improve our governments, communities, and culture.

The Summer 2015 issue of The Independent Review features a symposium on Jasay’s work, with contributions by G. Patrick Lynch, Hartmut Kliemt, Pierre Lemiux, André Azevedo Alvez, Carlo Ludovico Cordasco and Sebastiano Bvetta, and David M. Hart. (Also in this issue, Michael Munger reviews Jasay’s latest book, Social Justice and the Indian Rope Trick.)

Jasay’s striking originality makes him hard to classify. His writings suggest an affinity for classical liberalism, but he has criticized that tradition for its “unrestricted wishful thinking.” He is admired by public-choice scholars, but he takes issue with the constitutionalism of James M. Buchanan. And although he advocates free markets, he has called Austrian School economist F. A. Hayek “startlingly naïve.”

Nevertheless, Jasay’s freshness and profundity have earned him high praise from serious, liberty-minded readers. About his 1985 treatise, The State, symposium editor G. Patrick Lynch writes: “In this work, Jasay provides as realistic and unromantic a vision of the foundations of government as one can image.”

To understand the state, Jasay says we must first view it as a single agent with self-interested goals. Then we must ask: What would you do if you were the state?

Jasay’s approach inspires our contributors to tackle a host of important questions: How might a government be designed to minimize any threats to liberty? Why does Jasay find fault with Buchanan’s and Rawls’s “contractarian” theories of government? And how might public goods be provided without the use of government coercion to deal with the free-rider problem?

Jasay made his reputation by illuminating timeless theoretical issues, but he has also written numerous popular columns on current affairs. The final article in our symposium compares this work to that of Frédéric Bastiat, the 19th-century French individualist whom Schumpeter called “the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived.” The verdict? Jasay brille!

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The Independent Review, a journal devoted to political economy, public policy, and intellectual history, is published quarterly by Independent Institute. SPECIAL OFFER: If you’re not already a subscriber, sign up for the print version and receive a FREE book. eSubscriptions are available via an app for Apple iOS and Amazon Kindle.

Carl Close is Research Fellow and Senior Editor for The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review and editor of The Lighthouse, The Independent Institute’s weekly e-mail newsletter.
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