Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Good sentences - liberalism is constitutionalism

From Peter Boettke on facebook:

" ... a government which can apply coercion to the individual citizen only in accordance with pre-established, long-term general rules but not for specific, temporary ends is not compatible with every kind of economic order. If coercion is to be used only in the manner provided for in the general rules, it becomes impossible for government to undertake certain tasks. Thus it is true that, 'stripped of all its husks, liberalism is constitutionalism' ..."

- Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (1960, 192)


  1. If people want to talk about the posts from last night, you are more than welcome to link to them on your own blog. I may even come over and say a few words. Let's keep the comments pertinent to the post.

  2. I can agree with that statement, though I would say that he is talking about liberalism in different terms than is popular today. I would like to add that there are many people, myself included, that would argue that constitutionalism has for the most part failed to restrain "government" adequately, or that constitutional government has failed outright.

    When ideas change, so does the culture, thus leaving those of the past behind. It's the inescapable thorn in the side of constitutional government, because it almost unavoidably leads to unconstitutional acts; these unconstitutional acts are often accepted as legitimate by the masses.

    1. I would assume this is the usual litany of the low information libertarian: our roads should be private and you want to be a racist and refuse to hire people based on their race.

      The people looking for information try this link, asking on what intellectual currents libertarians are really floating their boats


      This article explores the arguments used by southern secessionists to explain why they left the Union. The article demonstrates that support for "states' rights" was not the main reason for secession, and that on the contrary, most of the slave states left the Union because the free states were exercising their states' rights in opposing slavery. The main reason for secession, as this essay shows, was the desire to protect slavery and to create a new nation, self-consciously based on slavery and white supremacy. This article began as part of an AALS legal history section program in 2010 and is part of a symposium based on the papers given at that session. (Dan, you could learn from this paper)

  3. A good sentence and a good thought. This might explain why Hayek is not so popular over at FreeAdvice. I think Fetz is almost 180 degrees wrong. Only constitutionalism, and an adherence to formal processes, has made possible basically decent governments, like the USA or Canada or Denmark. All have constitutional process (written or unwritten) and adhere to them.

    Just look at English history for the clearest possible demonstration of the importance of growing and nurturing such restraints (and definitions! need to have some powers migrated from private hands) on government.

    1. So, today's culture is not far different from those that formed the constitution, and they (that formed the constitution) would agree with SCOTUS decisions, and our current understanding of law under the constitution? I don't buy that.

      I don't deny that constitutionalism is probably the best system that has been put into mass-scale practice by humans attempting to restrain government (as well as the ills of society), but clearly it has a major shortcoming: it attempts to set into stone concepts and ideas of law that will eventually be rejected by future societies and cultures. Of course, there is a mechanism written into the constitution in order to deal with this, however it has rarely been used. Instead, statutory law and monopoly adjudication has taken precedence to the law.

      I would dare to say that most Americans have not fully read the document (probably a supermajority), and that many of those who are voted into powerful seats by the ignorant masses haven't read it (or if they have they've got their own contemporary concept of what it means). Some have even outright said that it is outdated, or that it should be ignored altogether. Certainly constitutionalism was a step up from monarchism, but one cannot say that constitutionalism is the pinnacle of governance in the human world, because surely something better will eventually replace it in the annals of humanity on this Earth.

      As you know, I am philosophically an anarchist. However, this does not preclude me from supporting what I believe to be a better system. In my mind strict constitutionalism is currently the best practical system to support, because it is concrete and it has already been successfully put to use. However, culture is not concrete, so I will forever realize that constitutionalism is only one of many systems that will be replaced due to its imperfections. To put it another way, if the choice were to implement either pure anarchy or constitutionalism today, I would probably choose constitutionalism. Yet I fear that today we are slipping further away from strict constitutionalism into something worse rather than better.


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.