On August 6-7, twelve scholars of diverse fields gathered at Liberty Fund headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, to participate in a Socratic seminar spanning four sessions over two days to discuss Richard Epstein’s book The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government (Harvard University Press, 2014).  Invited participants included two fellows of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI):  Charter Fellow Robert Paquette and Pamela Jensen, Professor Emerita of Political Science, Kenyon College. Liberty Fund Senior Fellow Steve Ealy supervised the sessions; Daniel Lowenstein, Professor Emeritus, UCLA School of Law, moderated the discussion.

Richard Epstein ranks as one of the most cited legal scholars in the United States.  A senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University, Epstein made his mark early on as an authority on the law of torts and of eminent domain.  In his book, Epstein has turned in a different but related direction to produce a magnum opus in the field of constitutional jurisprudence.

In this thick volume of more than 700 pages, Epstein navigates a middle ground between the originalist/textualist and  progressive/living constitution schools of constitutional interpretation. “The United States Constitution must, on any neutral evaluation,” declares Epstein in the first sentence of the book’s introduction, “count as the greatest triumph of political statecraft in the history of the World.”  Epstein then proceeds to argue for limited, republican government, secure private property rights, free exchange, security of contracts, and protection of individual rights as the theoretical pillars of the Constitution and how they should serve as an extrinsic standard with which Supreme Court justices should be guided in handing down decisions.  Those who have considered Epstein a hard-line libertarian will be disappointed in this book.  Indeed, with impressive analytical skill, Epstein contends, “

[T]he Constitution is not a libertarian document . . . . [I]t is a classical liberal document that allows for both taxation and eminent domain.”  For any undergraduate student considering a career in law, Epstein’s volume is a must read. It contains examinations of Supreme Court cases from Marbury v. Madison (1803) to National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2014).

Pierre F. Goodrich, an Indianapolis lawyer and entrepreneur, founded Liberty Fund in 1960.  It has as its central mission “the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.”  It sponsors scores of seminars and colloquia on themes related to liberty both inside and outside the United States.  At Liberty Fund gatherings, scholars and informed citizens who range the political spectrum have spirited, intensive, and civil conversations of the kind that too often does not occur on college and university campuses.  Liberty Fund republishes a wide variety of books that explore the idea of liberty and offers online the capacious Library of Economics and Liberty,  “dedicated to advancing the study of economics, markets, and liberty.” “Liberty Fund proved once again why it is the gold standard of non-profit organizations of its kind,” observed Paquette.  “The organization will soon be making national news with the opening of its spectacular new $22 million headquarters at 111th Street and U.S. 31 in Carmel, Indiana.  “The design of this architectural marvel will serve virtually as an open-armed invitation to freedom-loving citizens of all ages who will— apologies to Dante— ‘Indulge all hope, ye who enter here.’”