Nathanaël Colin-Jaeger, 2020–21 HOPE Center Fellow

Conflict is the lifeblood of fiction, but it can also be the lifeblood of a scholarly work.

Such is the case with the current research project of Nathanaël Colin-Jaeger. Nathanael, a 2020–21 HOPE Center fellow, is sorting out how neoliberals (more on that term later) such as Friedrich Hayek and James Buchanan could oppose planning in the economy, on the one hand, while very much acknowledging that society depends on rules and institutions that are quite consciously constructed, on the other.

“That’s the tension fueling my dissertation,” Nathanaël says. “The very people who thought that planning was impossible when it came to the economy had a very different position when it came to the things that made society possible—including markets.”

For Hayek and Buchanan, neoliberalism simply meant a return to the classical liberalism of Adam Smith and other eighteenth-century thinkers, a liberalism that regarded most institutions as the result of spontaneous evolution. But in Nathanaël’s view, neoliberalism is classical liberalism with a twist, as the former stresses the role of human design in the creation of order.

“Even Hayek and Buchanan recognized that markets are not natural but have to be constituted and improved,” Nathanaël says.

The neoliberals whom Nathanaël is studying grappled with such questions as, What makes a law or rule legitimate? What gives it authority? What makes for a “good” rule?

“In short, they wanted to understand the basis for the social contract and how it could be improved,” Nathanaël explains.

This is Nathanaël’s second visit to Duke. His first came in February of this year, when he spent two weeks poring over the papers of the famous American journalist Walter Lippmann. Lippmann participated in the great effort to solve the depression of the 1930s, an effort that eventually resuscitated notions of classical liberalism and led to questions about rules and how they find legitimacy.

The HOPE Center is the perfect place for Nathanaël at this stage of his research. “Being among other historians at the Center and having people like Bruce Caldwell and Steve Medema to talk with has been invaluable,” he says.

Despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic, Nathanaël has managed to explore Durham, bicycling from his apartment to downtown and some of its microbreweries, which all have ample outdoor seating.

Nathanaël, who was raised in a small town near Paris, is completing a PhD at ENS Lyon. He will return to France in June.