Remembering James Buchanan



James Buchanan accepting the Alexis de Tocqueville Award from Independent Institute President David Theroux, October 29, 1987

I was surprised to see James Buchanan characterized in the New York Times as “an austere man with a severe aspect that many students found intimidating.”

I was never a student of his, but the James Buchanan I had the pleasure of getting to know as a guest at numerous meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society and through his subsequent association with the Independent Institute was a gentle man with a charming gap-tooth grin and sparkle in his eyes.

His eyes especially lit up when talk turned to baseball, and despite the fact that I know absolutely nothing about the subject, when I sat next to him during a long bus excursion, he seemed perfectly happy to hold up both sides of the conversation, satisfied with nods and smiles from me.

His Southern graciousness shone through in his relations with the Independent Institute, agreeing to join our founding Board of Advisors in 1986—before he was awarded the Nobel Prize—and serving faithfully over the many years since. His increased eminence turned his head not a bit, and he very kindly consented to be the first recipient of the Independent Institute’s Alexis de Tocqueville Award at the first Gala dinner we held in 1987, The National Dinner to Honor James M. Buchanan.

Over the years, he never failed to review forthcoming Independent Institute book projects when asked, providing endorsements for (among others) Beyond Politics, Crisis and Leviathan, Taxing Choice, and, most recently, Living Economics. And as Senior Fellow Robert Higgs noted in his blog post earlier today, he served as a member of the Board of Advisors of The Independent Review upon its founding in 1996. He subsequently contributed two articles to the journal, and graced its cover in 2000.

Quintessentially a Gentleman and a Scholar, Jim Buchanan was one of the truly good guys. It’s nice to see the many posts of those he influenced today, and one hopes that now that he’s gone others will redouble their efforts to further the knowledge and liberty to which he dedicated his life.

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