Constitutional Political Economy

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 115–136 | Cite as

Social contracts for real moral agents: a synthesis of public reason and public choice approaches to constitutional design

  • Kevin VallierEmail author
Original Paper


Citizens in contemporary democratic societies disagree deeply about the nature of the good life, and they disagree just as profoundly about justice. In building a social contract theory for diverse citizens, then, we cannot rely as heavily on the theory of justice as John Rawls did. I contend that Rawlsian liberals should instead focus on developing an account of constitutional choice that does not depend on agreement about justice. I develop such an account by drawing on the contractarian approach to constitutional choice pioneered by public choice theorists, especially James Buchanan. With some modifications, public choice can help identify mutually justifiable constitutional rules based on the extent to which these constitutional rules produce appropriate laws under normal conditions. This new, synthetic approach to constitutional choice also helps to explain the moral significance of contractarian agreement for the public choice theorist.


Public reason Public choice James Buchanan John Rawls Constitutional choice Public reason liberalism Contractarianism 

JEL Classification

D63 D71 K100 P16 



This paper has taken a number of forms over the years, and more have added to the paper than I can list, so I apologize if anyone has been left out. I am grateful to a number of audiences where I presented the paper, especially audiences at George Mason University, University of Birmingham, UNC Chapel Hill, Brown University, and McGill University. I am especially grateful for comments from Paul Billingham, Peter Boettke, Geoffrey Brennan, Hun Chung, Roger Congleton, Jerry Gaus, Adam Gjesdal, Alan Hamlin, Keith Hankins, Brian Kogelmann, Peter Leeson, Jacob Levy, Andrew Lister, Stephen Macedo, Fred Miller, Ryan Muldoon, Mike Munger, Fabienne Peter, Jonathan Quong, Geoff Sayre-McCord, Thomas Sinclair, Vernon Smith, Stephen Stich, John Thrasher, Chad Van Schoelandt, Steve Wall, Paul Weithman, Jeremy Williams, Bart Wilson, Alex Worsnip, and many anonymous referees.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bowling Green State UniversityBowling GreenUSA

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