Aristotle writes that while “property should be in some way communal, in general it should be private.”
There are few economists smarter than Bryan Caplan, whose efforts to apply economic analysis to political phenomena have produced breakthrough insights, none more than his pioneering Myth of the Rational Voter (2007). But higher authorities also command deference. Aristotle is one. He warned in Book II of his Politics that political life is not reducible to an economic problem. Caplan’s recent post at Law and Liberty’s sister publication, EconLog, illustrates why.
Aristotle’s Politics has undergone at least nine English translations in the last few decades. Over the centuries, its advocates have included those who enslaved American Indians and those who overthrew monarchies in 1848. More recently, amazing work on Aristotle’s political philosophy has been published by Mary P. Nichols, Harvey Mansfield, Ronna Burger, Aristide Tessitore, Clifford Bates, Harry Jaffa, and the team of Susan Collins and Robert Bartlett, among others. Evidence of the benefit of Aristotle for America is in the work of the Founders, not least of them Thomas Jefferson. In an 1825 letter written near the end of his life,…
President Obama’s claim of executive omnipotence (“I can do whatever I want”) merely brought attention to the constitution under which we have been living: The chief, and those whom he appoints directly and indirectly, are not obliged to any law. Congressmen and senators too, free from votes for which they can be held responsible, can enjoy their rank among brokers of the profit and prestige, of the Trillions, which the modern administrative state dispenses. Obligations exist only among this vast public sector’s functionaries and beneficiaries — the ruling class.
For the bulk of the last generation, a conjunction of conservative legislatures and liberal courts enabled judicial conservatives to avoid a theoretical tension it is now time to confront: that between original intent and judicial restraint.
The tension was alleviated by the fact that, given the blend of conservatism in the electoral branches and liberalism on the bench, advocates of original intent and judicial restraint reached the same conclusions in 99 cases of 100: If majorities made decisions compatible with constitutional originalism and courts were inclined to overturn them—see Roe v. Wade as the paradigmatic example—the natural default for conservatives was judicial restraint. Conservatives, led intellectually by Judge Robert Bork, preached a doctrine of deference to majorities.