Morality, Political Economy and American Constitutionalism

Morality, Political Economy and American Constitutionalism

Timothy P. Roth

The Founders of the American Republic set up a remarkable experiment in self-government. Today, debates rage as to the philosophical legacy of this ongoing experiment. In this fascinating study, Timothy Roth offers a critical analysis of modern liberalism and the economic theory to which it is conjoined – social welfare theory.

Preface

Timothy P. Roth

Subjects: economics and finance, political economy, public choice theory, politics and public policy, political economy, public choice

Extract

The eminent American historian Forrest McDonald is perhaps best known for his powerful rebuttal of Charles A. Beard’s 1913 book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. But McDonald’s work also contemplates an exploration of the intellectual origins of the American Constitution. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Appendix to his recent Memoir is styled ‘The Intellectual World of the Founding Fathers’. For McDonald, ‘the formation of the Republic was a product of America’s Golden Age, the likes of which we shall not see again’. He attributes the ‘Golden Age’ to Americans’ ability to ‘pick and choose among the institutions of the mother country’, to their ‘habit of reading’, to their ‘understanding of history’, to their study of ‘the newly devised “science”’ of political economy, to their ‘understanding of the workings of the human psyche’ – informed, in part, by the work of ‘the Scottish Common Sense philosophers’ – and to their understanding that ‘The vital – which is to say life-giving – principle of republics was public virtue’. While each of these ideas finds expression in the argument developed below, I emphasize that, for McDonald and, I should say, for me, ‘The Constitution is primarily a structural and procedural document, specifying who is to exercise what powers and how. It is a body of law, designed to govern, not the people, but government itself’ (McDonald, 2004, p. 185; emphasis mine). My title, Morality, Political Economy and American Constitutionalism, is stimulated by the idea that the Founders’ republican self-government...