Liveblog: Economic Theory, Civic Virtue and the Meaning of the Constitution

February 25th, 2011

2011 Federalist Society Student Symposium

Justice Holmes’ dissent in Lochner v. New York is well-known for the statement, “[A] constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizen to the State or of laissez faire.” But is this belief consistent with the original Constitution? To what extent did the ideas of thinkers such as Adam Smith shape the founders’ understanding of human nature and public virtue? In what ways do their economic and philosophical commitments continue to shape our constitutional government today? Are capitalism and a commitment to civic virtue complementary or antagonistic? Does the Constitution promote a virtuous citizenry or is it simply a set of political structures that can accommodate a pluralistic society? At a time when the virtues of capitalism are often called into question, it will be useful to examine the precise place of this theory in the foundational structures of our government.

James Ely, Vanderbilt University Law School
Renee Lettow Lerner, George Washington University Law School
Nelson Lund, George Mason University School of Law
G. Edward White, University of Virginia School of Law

Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals