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From the Archives: Legal scholar Richard Epstein discusses new book ‘Design for Liberty’

Legal scholar Richard Epstein discusses new book ‘Design for Liberty’
February 23, 2012 4:01 PM MST

Already well-known for such works as Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain, How Progressives Rewrote the Constitution, and a widely used legal textbook on torts, New York University law professor Richard A. Epstein has just published Design for Liberty: Private Property, Public Administration, and the Rule of Law (Harvard University Press).

At a recent Cato Institute event, Professor Epstein spoke to the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about his new book and his next project, a book about classical liberalism and constitutional law.

What is ‘Design for Liberty’?
Design for Liberty, he said, differs from his previous books in that “it’s a little bit more philosophical. It spends much more time talking directly about public administration, which I have not talked about much in previous books.”

Richard Epstein law professor Design for Liberty
Moreover, Epstein added, it reflects his “newfound interest in public administrative law, which is usually missing from the earlier works, and of course, it has material which I could never have covered earlier because things like the Dodd-Frank [banking] statute and the current health-care [law] are creatures of the last year or so and therefore I never spoke about them before.”

Digging further beneath the surface, Epstein pointed out that his new book contains “a fairly detailed explanation of first and second order rules, a sort of technical subject,” which involves the question of “when is it that you have to have to resort to reasonableness rules?”

That happens, he said, when “it turns out that hard-line rules don’t work and what you have to do in order to make the rule of law work is to understand that the mere fact that there’s a reasonableness in some legal system doesn’t disqualify from the rule of the law.”

“On the other hand,” he argued, “you can’t let reasonableness determinations overwhelm the whole system, so I try to develop protocols to how it is that you separate those things.”

Future project on classical liberalism
Also a columnist for the Hoover Institution's online journal, Defining Ideas, where he writes regularly as "The Libertarian," Epstein is working on his next project, which will be what he describes as “a very long book” with the working title “The Classical Liberal Constitution.”

That book, he said, is “about 90 percent done.”

In it, Epstein “takes the fundamental insights that I’ve developed over the years and basically gives a comprehensive analysis of every major constitutional area with a hell of a lot of compression, but it starts with basic theories of constitutional interpretation. It talks about the conflict between the progressive and the classical liberal visions. Those,” he said, “are things I’ve talked about before.”

Epstein’s forthcoming book “goes through systematically the judicial, the executive, and legislative branches, and then does all the various threads of individual rights, each getting a chapter.”

Unlike Design for Liberty, “which is slim,” The Classical Liberal Constitution “will be fat,” he said, with a likely publication date in late 2012 or early 2013.

“It’s been a book that’s been in the making for many years now,” Epstein explained. “It’s an effort to give a comprehensive way in which, if you take the positions that I do, various cases and various issues have to come out.”

Given Epstein’s past work, The Classical Liberal Constitution will have “some stuff on takings, but that’s not the main focus of it. It has things on freedom of religion and executive power and foreign affairs and so forth.”

Epstein concedes that his “knowledge base is not uniform across all these areas" but notes that "what makes it possible to do this project is that the Supreme Court doctrine generally tends to be comprised in a relatively few key cases.”

Consequently, “if you have a strong theory, and you pick the right cases to read, you can write the kind of book that I’m talking about.”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on February 23, 2012. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

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