In my last post, I discussed Jason Brennan’s views of constitutionalism. Here, I want to address Jason’s claim that the U.S. Constitution was not intended to protect liberty but national power. I am not sure exactly what the Philadelphia Convention “intended.” But one obvious possibility here – in fact the one that the Federalists claimed they were pursuing – was that they were strengthening the federal government in order to promote liberty. Strangely, Jason does not discuss this possibility.
One possible basis for Jason’s attitude – one that he does not embrace explicitly – is that any additional power given to the federal government takes away from the liberty of the people. Many libertarians have adopted this view. Murray Rothbard, for example, argued that the Articles of Confederation were better than the Constitution and had they continued we would have seen a further decentralization toward an even more libertarian society.
But such a necessary opposition between liberty and national power betrays something of a confusion. While greater national power can sometimes result in less liberty – witness the New Deal – it can also result in greater liberty. The Federalists made a strong case for this argument in the Federalist Papers that I think is worth remembering.