Monday, August 25, 2014

Mehrotra on Beard and the Columbia School of Political Economy

Ajay K. Mehrotra, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, has posted Charles A. Beard & The Columbia School of Political Economy: Revisiting the Intellectual Roots of the Beardian Thesis, which is to appear in Constitutional Commentary 29 (2014): 475-510.  Here is the abstract:   
Charles A. Beard, circa 1917 (LC)
A century after it was first published, Charles A. Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution remains a significant and controversial part of constitutional scholarship and history. Just as Beard sought to historicize the Founders as they drafted and adopted the Constitution, this article attempts to historicize Beard as he researched and wrote his classic text on the Constitution. Because Beard was both a graduate student and professor at Columbia University before and while he researched and wrote his book, this article explores the particular influence that Columbia University’s institutional and intellectual climate may have had on Beard and the writing of An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution.

This article contends that Charles Beard was the product of a unique Columbia tradition of inductive, proto-institutionalist research in political economy – a tradition that at its core sought to meld serious political and historical scholarship with progressive social activism. Yet, in many ways, Columbia’s influence on Beard was more reinforcing than it was revolutionary. Columbia, in other words, facilitated an evolution rather than a dramatic transformation in Beard’s thinking. His time at Columbia provided him with new scholarly perspectives and research methods, but ultimately these new views heightened his innate tension between scholarly objectivity and political advocacy, between his belief in social scientific research and his desires for social democratic reform. In short, Beard’s time at Columbia, as both a student and junior scholar, refined his personal predilections and his early upbringing and education, rather than radically converting him into a new thinker and writer.

This article was part of a special symposium on the 100th Anniversary of Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, hosted by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and law school.


Shag from Brookline said...

I thank Prof. Mehrotra for making his paper available via SSRN. I already had it as Constitutional Commentary is the sole paid subscription law review that I have continued with in my semi-retirement from the practice of law. Hopefully some of the other papers in the Summer Issue may be similarly made available.

I started with historian Saul Cornell's paper which I found most interesting as he challenged originalism (as he has done in the past), this time pointing to historical and other flaws in the 5-4 Heller decision written by Justice Scalia.

I then tasked myself to read the Summer Issue seriatim. But I skipped to Mehrotra's paper, which I just finished.

There seems be be much disagreement about Charles Beard, evidenced by Mark Graber's lead-in paper analyzing the papers that followed, suggesting to me that Graber was tasked with herding cats of various scholarly expertise with divergent views. It is not clear to me exactly what Graber's views on Beard are.

An earlier post at this Blog is on Graber's article on the 14th Amendment. A subsequent post at this Blog is on Hovenkamp's article "Inventing the Classical Constitution." I am working my way through the former but have not as yet downloaded the latter. Based upon my reading so far in the former and upon the abstract for the latter, there may be connections to Beard, at least pertaining to economic interests. Consider in the former, the former slaveowners' glee with the potential of getting constitutional control of the Central Government pre Civil War to in effect reinstitute slavery, with the opening presented by the 13 Amendment in effect abolishing the 3/5ths rule on determining the number of House members. As Paul Finkelman, and others have pointed out there were a number of provisions in the 1787 Constitution that indirectly supported the slave power that the 13th Amendment did not change. So the former slave states were in wait for the restoration of the slave power. I am only 1/3rd into Graber's article, carefully following the history Graber provides.

Efforts to undercut Beard relate to the role of progressives in the 20th Century, trying to brand Beard as a Marxist socialist. Perhaps Graber's and Hovenkamp's articles may fill in some gaps supporting economic interests of the Framers of the 1787 Constitution.

Meanwhile, back to the Summer Issue as well as Graber's more recent article on the 14th Amendment.

Dan Ernst said...

Nice to hear from you, Shag!

Shag from Brookline said...

One of the reasons I jumped to Mehrota's paper was to learn of Thomas Reed Powell's connection with Beard when Powell was teaching at Columbia Law School. My ConLaw course in the Fall of 1952 was with Prof. Powell (following compulsory retirement from Harvard Law School), I don't recall any specific discussion of Charles Beard during the course. Powell's 1955 "The Vagaries and Varieties of Constitutional interpretation" references Beard on judicial review at page 3:

" ... and research by Charles Beard has shown that a majority of the leading delegates [to the Constitutional Convention] favored the subjection of legislation to judicial inquiry and possibly control, and that they assumed that it was implicit in the institution they were proposing for adoption.1"

1. Beard, "The Supreme Court and the Constitution (1912).

The paper provides a cite to a law review article favorable towards Beard's views on the latter's important 1913 book. I plan to read Powell's article in due course.

The "clash" today on Beard seems to center on the "living Constitution" versus originalism.

Back to the Beard papers.