Liberty in Peril
Liberty in Peril

Liberty in Peril

Democracy and Power in American History


356 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Hardcover, ebook: EPUB

Hardcover, $24.95 (US $24.95) (CA $38.95)

Publication Date: September 2019

ISBN 9781598133325


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When the United States was born in the revolutionary acts of 1776, Americans viewed the role of government as the protector of their individual rights. Thus, the fundamental principle underlying the new American government was liberty. Over time, the ideology of political "democracy"â€â€the idea that the role of government is to carry out the "will of the people," as revealed through majority ruleâ€â€has displaced the ethics of liberty. This displacement has eroded individual rights systematically and that history is examined in Liberty in Peril by Randall Holcombe in language accessible to anyone. The Founders intended to design a government that would preclude tyranny and protect those individual rights, and the Bill of Rights was a clear statement of those rights. They well understood that the most serious threat to human rights and liberty is government. So, the Constitution clearly outlined a limited scope for government and set forth a form of governance that would preserve individual rights. The federal government's activities during two world wars and the Great Depression greatly increased government's involvement in people's lives. By the time of Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society," the depletion of rights and the growth of the activities of political democracy was complete. By the end of the 20th Century the fundamental principle underlying the U.S. government was now political power and not liberty. Public policy was oriented toward fulfilling the majority rule with the subsequent increase in government power and scope. Holcombe argues that economic and political systems are not separate entities but are intimately intertwined. The result is a set of tensions between democracy, liberty, a market economy, and the institutions of a free society. All those interested in the evolution of American government, including historians, political scientists, economists, and legal experts, will find this book compelling and informative.


"Liberty in Peril is an important book. It seeks to show the transformation of the underlying ideology of American government since the Revolution from commitment to the principle of individual liberty to the principle of democracyâ€â€that government should be responsive to the will of the people. It combines sophisticatedâ€â€but easily readableâ€â€economics with sophisticated political science and a deep historical interpretation of changes in American politics over this period which have completed the transformation. It is an outstanding political and economic history of the U.S." â€â€George L. Priest, Edward J. Phelps Professor of Law and Economics, Yale University "Randall Holcombe's Liberty in Peril illuminates the forces that have shifted power and responsibility from individuals to government, and from local to centralized government, throughout American history. This timely reminder is must reading for all those concerned with the erosion of, and new threats to, the legal rights and liberties that form the core of a successful society." â€â€Michael J. Boskin, former Chairman, President's Council of Economic Advisors; T. M. Friedman Professor of Economics, Stanford University; Wohlford Family Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution; Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research "Liberty in Peril is a gem. Randall Holcombe traces the inexorable growth of government through war and peace, from railroads to autos, and during prosperity and depression." â€â€Burton W. Folsom Jr., Distinguished Fellow, Hillsdale College; author, New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America and FDR Goes to War: How Expanded Executive Power, Spiraling National Debt, and Restricted Civil Liberties Shaped Wartime America "The Independent Institute has been leading the way for some time in asking uncomfortable questions about a disturbing tendency: the transformation of the American government and market system toward cronyism. In his marvelous Independent book, Liberty in Peril, Holcombe lays bare the case in careful detail. Using the interest group model of public choice, Holcombe is able to show the slow but cumulatively catastrophic changes that have taken place, punctuated by a few crises of the type Robert Higgs has emphasized for decades. The problem, at its base, has been the erosion of the protections for liberty in favor of populist 'democracy.' I hope that this timely and well-written call to action can motivate a consideration of the limits, and the need to limit, the dangerous impulses of interest-group politics." â€â€Michael C. Munger, Professor of Political Science, Economics and Public Policy and Director of the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program, Duke University "Every new book by Randy Holcombe is a pleasure to read. Clearly written, insightful, thought-provoking and of high importance to the state of the world, Liberty in Peril is no exception. The book describes how fundamentally the U.S. has changed as a political system, and how the ideals of individual liberty, limited government and separation of powers have eroded. It should be read by everyone concerned about the growth and abuse of government power, no matter whether it is done by the left, the right or the center." â€â€Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard, Professor ofPolitical Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark "In Liberty in Peril, Randall Holcombe dissects the commonplace assertion that democracy and liberty support one another and rejects it. His rejection is based on a careful analysis of the working properties of democratic institutions and processes. Any reader looking to find a short and readable explanation of how political democracy can erode personal liberty should read this book." â€â€Richard E. Wagner, Holbert L. Harris Professor of Economics, George Mason University "Liberty for individuals guided the U.S. founding fathers. Randall Holcombe gives a powerful explanation as to why over time liberty gave way to the 'will of the people' or 'democracy.' Ci

Author Biography

Randall G. Holcombe is the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, past President of the Public Choice Society, and past President of the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics. He is also Senior Fellow at the James Madison Institute.Dr. Holcombe is the author of twelve books, a contributing author to forty volumes and the author of more than 100 articles in professional journals. Among his books are The Economic Foundations of Government, Public Policy and the Quality of Life, Smarter Growth (ed. with S. Staley), From Liberty to Democracy, Writing Off Ideas, Public Sector Economics, Public Finance and the Political Process, and Entrepreneurship and Economic Progress. His primary areas of research are public finance and the economic analysis of public policy issues.He received his Ph.D. in economics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and he has taught at Texas A&M University and Auburn University.

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