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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 5-6 of Richard Epstein’s magisterial 2014 study, The Classical Liberal Constitution:

At root, the classical view of American constitutionalism examined all legal interventions under a presumption of error.  The structural protections of the separation of powers, check and balances, federalism, and the individual rights guarantees built into the basic constitutional structure were all part of combined efforts to slow down the political process that, left to its own devices, could easily overheat.

Epstein goes on to show that what he calls “a presumption of error” – that is, a wise presumption that individuals exercising the power of the state, even when democratically elected, always exercise such power with limited knowledge and under the strong temptation to enhance their own private welfare at the expense of the public – was discarded as “Progressivism” took hold of Americans’ minds.  The state then came to been seen as, if not the only, certainly the best means of curing whatever ills afflicted (or were thought to afflict) society.  Therefore, the U.S. Constitution’s obstacles to state intervention were regarded by “Progressives” as obstacles to the social and economic progress promised by vigorous government – obstacles to the obvious need for a benevolent government to act energetically, quickly, and with the wide discretion needed for effective social engineering.

In short, the prudent and appropriate fear of state power that animated America’s founding generation was replaced by imprudent impatience for salvation by the state.


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