Peter Augustine Lawler

Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. Lawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004-09. He writes at National Review Online's Postmodern Conservative blog.

Originalism and Legislative Deliberation

The point of Ilya Somin's able and humane Liberty Forum essay is to show libertarians how to deploy originalism as a doctrine to maximize “negative liberty” in America. He doesn’t claim to establish that negative liberty is good, or that its maximization accords with living in the truth or with dignity. It’s enough to say that it’s “an important value” for many people, mainly his people. It’s, as the economists say, a preference, and we all have our preferences or values. He is candid enough to write that all theories of constitutional interpretation are value-laden. There’s no such thing as surrendering…

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What “Liberties” Does the Constitution Protect?

In his famous, breakthrough speech at the Cooper Union in New York, Lincoln remarked on those black slaves who had not thrown in with John Brown. Even though, as he said, they were “ignorant”—even though they had no formal education—they had the wit to see that the schemes of this crazy white man would not…

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The Use and Abuse of Originalism

Ilya Somin’s thesis in his Liberty Forum essay is modest and hedged. Confining himself to “the circumstances of the United States for the foreseeable future,” he argues only that, among the “plausible competitors,” originalism is “likely to be” the theory of constitutional interpretation that best protects the components of  “ ‘negative’ liberty defended by most…

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Originalism and Liberty: Ilya Somin Replies

I would like to start by thanking Law and Liberty for hosting this symposium, and Hadley Arkes, Peter Lawler, and Ed Whelan for their thoughtful comments on my initial essay. I had planned to complete this reply much earlier. But just as constitutional originalism sometimes has difficulty taking account of new developments, so my original…

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Uncovering the Meaning of Covering Meanings

Melzer

The most important book published in political philosophy in years is Arthur M. Melzer’s Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing. It first of all establishes, beyond all reasonable doubt, that philosophers (and poets, and other writers) routinely deployed “a double doctrine.” One was “exoteric” or “external” and “public.” The other was “esoteric” or “internal” and “secret.” The intention of the French philosophes—or enlightening, publicizing philosophers— was that the truth about these two contradictory doctrines become public knowledge. They turned esotericism into an exoteric or public doctrine. And Melzer, a professor of political science at Michigan State University,…

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Putting Our Bourgeois-Bohemian Rulers in Their Place

Let me begin by saying that I’m far more unimpressed by the contribution of behavioral economists  than even Wright and Ginsburg. The perception that people aren’t hardwired, so to speak, to always act — in their own interests has only been challenged by those who have made the error of imagining that all human behavior either is or should be all about rational choice on the level of interests. Similarly, Simon’s alleged breakthrough that people are content to “satisfice” rather than maximize when it comes to choice is little more than common sense. Most people, most of the time, don’t…

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Is the Hayekian Response to “Libertarian Paternalism” Sufficient?

Joshua Wright and Judge Ginsburg offer a powerful critique of the Behavioral Law and Economics (BLE) movement on several fronts, but primarily based on the threat BLE poses to individual liberty.  They provide a helpful and straightforward history of the rise of Behavioral Economics, which applies a simple premise that runs contrary to neoclassical economics:…

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The Paternal State and the Police State

Joshua Wright and Douglas Ginsburg have given us a very good analysis of many of the problems inherent in normative behavioral law and economics (especially in the form of “libertarian” or soft paternalism) from the perspective of liberty.  I am in basic agreement with them. Thus I shall simply elaborate some further criticisms of this…

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Nudging for Liberty

In this essay I will begin by disagreeing with the authors on two counts.   First, I will argue that defenders of liberty might want to think long and hard about specific issues, such as retirement accounts, where liberty and the free society might be enhanced through nudging.  Put another way, short of a libertarian winning…

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