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Contrary to the claims of some of his critics, James Buchanan was an ardent democrat. I argue that Buchanan’s conception of democratic governance organized by a contractually justified constitution is highly distinctive because of his commitment to a strong conception of individualism. For Buchanan, democracy is neither justified instrumentally—by the goods it generates—nor by reference to some antecedent conception of justice. Instead, democracy is the only political option for a society that takes individualism seriously. One implication of this view is that democracies can only be limited by the rules they collectively give themselves in the form of constitutions. I explicate this conception of democracy and address some of its implications, assumptions, and challenges.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Homo Oeconomicus, volume 36, issue 1-2, in 2019 following peer review. The final publication may differ and is available at Springer via

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