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 6: A Failed Public Philosophy

Timothy P. Roth

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


6.1 The Right vERSUS the Good If the argument developed in Chapter 4 is correct, ‘the political theory implicit in our practice, the assumptions about citizenship and freedom that inform [American] public life’ (Sandel, 1996, p. 4) is what I have styled ‘Dworkian’ or modern liberalism. Granting this, I take as my point of departure that it is this paradigm which accounts for what Nobel laureate economist James Buchanan has characterized as the erosion of our moral order ([1981] 2001, p. 197).1 While the Dworkian enterprise has implications for American jurisprudence, this discussion is deferred to Chapter 8. For the moment, I emphasize, again, that modern liberalism is a hybrid moral theory. On the one hand, it deploys a theory of the right, the equal treatment imperative. On the other hand, its derivative political positions consist in an attempt to ‘perfect’ both majoritarian democracy and utilitarianism, a theory of the good. And central to this enterprise is the commitment to the instrumental use of the economist’s theory of the state, utilitarian social welfare theory. If this means that modern liberalism is irreconcilable with the Founders’ non-teleological contractarian project (S4.2), it also means that no account is taken of the fundamental irreconcilability of rightand goal-based moral theories and, pari passu, of the logical opposition between modern liberalism and utilitarianism (S5.2). As it happens, these considerations do not exhaust the logical and other conundra which confront the Dworkian liberal. Recall first that, for modern liberals, the fundamental question is, ‘What does...

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