The Welfare State and American Exceptionalism

February 26th, 2011

2011 Federalist Society Student Symposium

The Welfare State and American Exceptionalism
With the recent passage of President Barack Obama’s health care legislation, it is time to reassess whether it is possible to have a welfare state that meshes with the American constitutional tradition. Is the enduring presence of government entitlements antithetical to our system of government or is there a way to accommodate these programs without changing the historical American relationship between the individual and the government? Will the growing role of government in the United States cause the country to increasingly mirror Europe or can the nation chart an alternate course? If the latter, what would it look like? Does the U.S. Constitution’s relative lack of positive rights compared to its counterparts around the world pose problems for proponents of an American welfare state? Is the American suspicion toward state entitlements the product of a longstanding philosophical commitment or the result of historical contingency? Are there currently any constitutional limits on the growth of the welfare state? Should there be?

William P. Marshall, University of North Carolina School of Law
Jeremy Rabkin, George Mason University School of Law
Neomi Rao, George Mason University School of Law

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit