The Protective State: A Grave Threat to Liberty

33 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2016 Last revised: 15 Mar 2018

See all articles by Christopher J. Coyne

Christopher J. Coyne

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Date Written: December 21, 2016


James Buchanan’s protective state emerges at the constitutional level and protects the core rights of citizens via internal security, contract enforcement, and defense against external threats. This paper focuses on the potential for the protective state to produce anti-liberty outcomes. I identify five specific channels through which the activities of the protective state may yield anti-liberty results. They include: (1) interpretation in an open-ended system, (2) institutional changes within constraints, (3) the centralization of state power, (4) the emergence of coercion-enabling human capital, and (5) the emergence of coercion-enabling physical capital. These channels are endogenous to the legitimate operations of the protective state and do not require any nefarious motivations by those involved.

Keywords: James M. Buchanan, protective state, national security, national security state

JEL Classification: H10, H56, N40

Suggested Citation

Coyne, Christopher J., The Protective State: A Grave Threat to Liberty (December 21, 2016). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 17-03, Available at SSRN: or

Christopher J. Coyne (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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