From Liberty to Democracy

The Transformation of American Government
Randall G. Holcombe
An analysis of American political history using the economic framework of public choice theory


From Liberty to Democracy traces the evolution of American government and its fundamental principle from liberty, at its inception, to democracy in the twentieth century. At the nation's founding, the principle underlying American government was liberty, and the nation's new government was designed to protect the rights of individuals. The American Founders intended to design a government that would protect the rights of its citizens, and at that time the most serious threat to people's rights was government. Thus, the United States government was designed with a constitutionally limited scope to preserve the rights of individuals and limit the powers of government.

The government's activities during two world wars and the Great Depression greatly increased its involvement in people's economic affairs, and by the time of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, the transformation was complete. By the end of the twentieth century, the fundamental principle underlying American government had been transformed to democracy, and public policy was designed to further the will of the majority. The result has been a government that is larger and broader in scope.

Using the framework of public choice theory, Holcombe shows how American government grew more democratic and how this resulted in an increase in the size and scope of government. He argues that economic and political systems are not separate entities but are intimately intertwined, and that there are inherent tensions between democratic government and the market economy. The book should appeal to historians, political scientists, and economists who are interested in the evolution of American government but does not assume any specialized training and can be read by anyone interested in American political history.

Randall G. Holcombe is DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics, Florida State University. He is also the chairman of the Research Advisory Council of the James Madison Institute for Public Policy Studies, a Tallahassee-based think tank that specializes in issues facing state governments. Through the James Madison Institute, Professor Holcombe has written numerous articles and reports on Florida's growth management program and its impact on economic development in the State of Florida. He is the author of nine books and more than a hundred articles and reviews published in academic and professional journals. His primary areas of research are public finance and the economic analysis of public policy issues.

Praise / Awards

  • "A courageous book that lays out, in convincing historical detail, how the very raison d'être of American politics shifted from the protection of liberty to putative furtherance of people's well-being. In the transformation, little or no public or academic attention was paid to the necessary failures of politics to translate individual evaluations into collective results. Should we then be at all surprised at demos run amok? Holcombe forces his readers to face American political history and reality as they are, rather than as they might imagine them to be."
    —James M. Buchanan, Advisory General Director, The Center for the Study of Public Choice, George Mason University
  • "Demonstrating a strong command of public choice principles, Holcombe has produced an insightful analytical survey of the growth of government from the colonial era to the present. An important contribution."
    —Robert Higgs, editor of The Independent Review and author of Crisis and Leviathan

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 352pp.
  • 8 drawings, 6 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11290-6

Add to Cart
  • $99.95 U.S.