American liberals and conservatives alike take for granted a progressive view of the Constitution that took root in the early twentieth century. Richard Epstein laments this complacency which, he believes, explains America’s current economic malaise and political gridlock. Steering clear of well-worn debates between defenders of originalism and proponents of a living Constitution, Epstein employs close textual reading, historical analysis, and political and economic theory to urge a return to the classical liberal theory of governance that animated the framers’ original text, and to the limited government this theory supports.
“[An] important and learned book.”
—Gary L. McDowell, Times Literary Supplement
“Epstein has now produced a full-scale and full-throated defense of his unusual vision of the Constitution. This book is his magnum opus…Much of his book consists of comprehensive and exceptionally detailed accounts of how constitutional provisions ought to be understood…All of Epstein’s particular discussions are instructive, and most of them are provocative…Epstein has written a passionate, learned, and committed book.”
—Cass R. Sunstein, New Republic
Over the past three decades, Richard A. Epstein has repeatedly argued—with analytical rigor and astonishing erudition—that governments govern best when they limit their actions to protecting liberty and property…Mr. Epstein believes that constitutional law lost its way when it began to embrace a Progressive vision, according to which rights are created by a supposedly benevolent state…[He] vividly shows us how constitutional law would look if we gave priority to individual rights—something that we have not done for almost a century.
Epstein has now produced a full-scale and full-throated defense of his unusual vision of the Constitution. This book is his magnum opus…Much of his book consists of comprehensive and exceptionally detailed accounts of how constitutional provisions ought to be understood…All of Epstein’s particular discussions are instructive, and most of them are provocative…Epstein has written a passionate, learned, and committed book.
[An] important and learned book.
The central mission of The Classical Liberal Constitution is to go against the grain of modern Supreme Court jurisprudence and much of the legal scholarship that has grown up around that body of work. The motivation for this argument should be apparent from the major disarray that infects every area of modern American life: steady decline in the average standard of living; constant battles over debt limits and fiscal cliffs; uncertainty over key elements of the tax structure; massive overregulation of the most productive sources in society (health care and financial services); government-inspired brinksmanship in labor negotiations; and runaway redistribution programs that undercut the economic production that makes these programs viable. All of these major programs could not have happened under the original constitutional structure, faithfully interpreted in light of changed circumstances. The confluence of these events cannot be dismissed as the result of random noise or simple mistakes. Rather, they are the ultimate consequence of the profound progressive break with the classical liberal tradition that was the guiding genius in the drafting and interpretation of the Constitution.
- 704 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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