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.

Chapter 1: The Founders’ ‘Republican Cause’

Timothy P. Roth

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


1.1 REPUBLICAN SELF-GOVERNMENT Novus ordo seclorum. Inscribed on the great seal of the United States, the Latin phrase reflects the Founders’ intention to establish ‘a new order of the ages’. If they were not certain that it would succeed, the Founders knew that their experiment in self-government had no precedent in human history.1 Aware of the ‘rights of Englishmen’, informed by the work of moral and political philosophers, animated by the failures of the Articles of Confederation, cognizant of the dangers of ‘faction’, and conflicted about the tensions between the national and state governments, the Founders had a distinctive republican vision. To paraphrase Dr. Franklin, Americans could keep their republic – provided, first, that the Constitution’s formal institutional constraints were not the ‘parchment barriers’ that Madison imagined state Bills of Rights to be. Equally important, the Founders insisted that self-government requires both civic engagement and civic virtue. For the Founders this meant that political and, pari passu, moral discourse would be informed by political and moral philosophy, that political economy would be explicitly value-laden, and that citizens would be other-regarding. In the Founders’ imagination, then, postconstitutional, conflictual politics would be constrained, inter alia, by federalism, by the separation of powers, by the enumerated powers of the national government, and by the substantive and procedural rights codified in the Bill of Rights. But day-to-day politics would also reflect the reciprocal relationship between the peoples’ concern for the public good and the body of constitutional and statutory law. Possessed of preference and value...

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