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 5: The Economic Analogue

Timothy P. Roth

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

Extract

5.1 INTRODUCTION I stipulate, first, that utilitarian social welfare theory’s instrumental role in modern liberalism’s political morality is, in a generic sense, unexceptionable. Economics must, after all, be ‘conjoined to some adequate political doctrine (a doctrine that defines the nature and rights of the social arrangement to be served)’ (Scruton, 2002, pp. 106–7). Second, I acknowledge that Ronald Dworkin insists that, whereas ‘The opinion is popular that some form of utilitarianism … is constitutive of liberalism … this opinion is mistaken’ (1985, pp. 201–2). That said, I argue that utilitarianism is characteristic of modern liberalism’s constitutive and derivative political positions (S4.2). I have emphasized that modern liberalism’s equal treatment construal ‘needs a scheme of civil rights whose effect will be to determine those political decisions that are antecedently likely to reflect strong external preferences and to remove those decisions from majoritarian political institutions altogether’ (Dworkin 1985, p. 197). It is beyond dispute that this rights as non-absolute trumps against external preferences construal is an attempt to perfect both majoritarian democracy and utilitarianism (S4.2). Moreover, modern liberalism’s impulse to reform the ‘economic market’ involves the economist’s utilitarian theory of the state (S4.2). It follows, pari passu, that utilitarianism is instrumental to the achievement of its constitutive political position; namely, ‘that government must be neutral on what might be called the question of the good life’ (Dworkin, 1985, p. 191). Finally, as I have emphasized, because it incorporates elements of right- and goal-based moral theories, modern liberalism is a hybrid moral...

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