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, “