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Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History, Randall G. Holcombe

Reviewed by Chris Barker

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That American government serves its citizens is uncontroversial. The question is how it should do so (p. 129). Randall G. Holcombe, a prolific economist of the classical liberal strain, has authored an engaging and readable “genie out of the bottle” story. With some repetitions and simplifications, he decodes an ideological shift in government power, in which the basic move is from a government that protects rights to one that actively promotes economic well-being.

The current text, published in 2019 by the Independent Institute, is a popularization of the author’s 2002 book From Liberty to Democracy: The Transformation of American Government. This new version has the same chapter structure. It offers a revised preface and a new foreword by Barry R. Weingast, but scholars will find the 2002 version readable enough and may miss that edition’s copious endnotes.

The choice to recount American economic and political history as intertwined in their evolution is very welcome; however, the decline narrative pushes aside some other stories. Republican theory is not a part of this account, and the type of thickly contextual and complicated origins story told by Bernard Bailyn in The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution does not figure in. Owing t

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