Review 3: The Political Economy of the Minimal State, Edited by Charles K. Rowley (1996)
Constitutional Political Economy, Vol. 8, No. 1, 93-95(1997)
"Charles Rowley sets forth a basic quandary in his introduction to The Political Economy of the Minimal State. Why, given the collapse of the soviet state, is there so little intellectual support for classical liberal ideas? This quandary motivates the book. Rowley argues, and provides evidence for this point, that some wrongly see an emerging new world order as yielding new strength for supporters of the principles of liberty, markets and the rule of law. He concludes just the reverse. Whatever support classical liberalism enjoyed in the past is sharply eroded. In Rowley's view, the new world order is best characterized by a call for security and redistribution and yet still, somehow, extols the practical benefits of markets. To make matters even worse for the liberal case, some of the more notable past spokesmen for liberalism have recanted and now question the fundamental basis of classical liberal ideas. The intellectual capital of classical liberalism is in sad repair. Why?
Rowley's introduction is itself a powerful explanation of how centuries-old ideas about the virtues of the limited state have lost their intellectual sheen. In building an argument worthy of becoming mandatory reading for all who favor liberalism, Rowley develops and contrasts the ideas of Hobbes and Locke, dissects the writings of former liberalism champions Robert Nozick and John Gray, and then moves hopefully to describe James Buchanan's call for constitutional constraints. Finally, as he sees the situation, those who previously supported constitutional constraints to protect freedom now assign greater priority to order than to freedom. Still optimistic about the moral philosophy of liberty that underlies the minimal state, Rowley calls for a definition of bedrock, the first principles of liberalism. This is the challenge to be met by the subsequent papers ....
A reader's impression of a book is always conditioned by appetite and need for the discovered content. In my case, I was hungry for the systematic exploration of ideas contained in Charles Rowley's book and found myself making copious notes as I read and reread the chapters. I recommend the book for all who search for a more complete understanding of the foundation stones that form classical liberalism. I predict that readers with the intellectual appetite will read this book and then place it in a special place on the shelf that contains favorite books by Buchanan, Hayek, Locke, and Mises. That is where my copy now resides."