The Rights Revolution: Rights and Community in Modern America / Edition 1

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The most dramatic change in American society in the last forty years has been the explosive growth of personal rights, a veritable "rights revolution" that is perceived by both conservatives and liberals as a threat to traditional values and our sense of community. Is it possible that our pursuit of personal rights is driving our country toward moral collapse?
In The Rights Revolution, Samuel Walker answers this question with an emphatic no. The "rights revolution," says Walker, is the embodiment of the American ideals of morality and community. He argues that the critics of personal rights—from conservatives such as Robert Bork to liberals such as Michael Sandel—often forget the blatant injustices perpetrated against minorities such as women, homosexuals, African-Americans, and mentally handicapped citizens before the civil ights movement. They attack "identity politics" policies such as affirmative action, but fail to offer any reasonable solution to the dilemma of how to overcome exclusion in a society with such a powerful legacy of discrimination.
Communitarians, who offer the most comprehensive alternative to a rights-oriented society, rarely define what they mean by community. What happens when conflicts arise between different notions of community?
Walker concedes that the expansion of individual rights does present problems, but insists that the gains far outweigh the losses. And he reminds us that the absolute protection of our individual rights is our best defense against discrimination and injustice. The Rights Revolution is an impassioned call to honor the personal rights of all American citizens, and to embrace an enriched sense of democracy, tolerance, and community in our nation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
History and social science furnish solid grounds on which Walker rebuts communitarian attacks on individual rights. Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, convincingly shows how current offensives from both the left and the right distort American history by imagining a time when we all lived peacefully, without constant invocations of personal rights. He argues that these critics ignore the law's historic exclusion of individuals from society based solely on race, religion or gender. For those uninitiated in this debate, Walker In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU offers a succinct but substantial overview of communitarian thinkers, from Newt Gingrich to Mary Ann Glendon, all the while demonstrating the shortcomings of their ideas. His no-nonsense approach to an often overblown debate demonstrates the extent to which ideology, not reality, often frames the issues. Echoing Michael Walzer, he defends the sensible claim that, contrary to some theorists, "the best guarantee of an inclusive community, where full membership of every group is protected, is a vigilant, absolutist approach to individual rights." From this perspective, rights, rather than undermining the development of communities, actually foster communal development. If Walker's arguments are correct, the breakdown of the sense of community in America will most likely need to be addressed by non-legal means. Sept.
Library Journal
Walker (criminal justice, Univ. of Nebraska), whose works include a history of the ACLU, here defends the concept of individual rights against those on both the Right and Left who would curtail them for the higher good of the "community." He begins by pointing out just how different the state of individual rights was only a few decades ago and how many of the freedoms we currently take for granted hardly, if ever, existed. Walker then goes on to describe the problems that some people have with the exercise of our personal rights--from "hate speech" to abortion--and attempts to rebut their claims. He also shows how the concept of individual rights has transformed this country and, indeed, much of the world. Walker reserves special attention for Communitarianism and its demand to subordinate personal rights to community good. The book includes copious notes. Recommended for academic and public libraries.--Joseph Toschik, Half Moon Bay P.L., CA
Kirkus Reviews
A simultaneously perceptive and myopic defense of rights. After agreeing that there has been a revolutionary expansion of individual rights during the last half of this century, Walker (In Defense of American Liberties: A Hiostry of the ACLU, 1990, etc.) mounts a defense of these rights against critics from both ends of the political spectrum. Conservatives complain that morality has been undermined by incessant claims of victimization, leaving us with a self-centered society where no one will take responsibility for themselves. Communitarians complain that claims of individual freedom have crowded out community values, leaving us with no basis for a shared life. Walker doesnþt deny the existence of problems, but maintains that the expansion of individual rights represents progress in honestly confronting them. He insists that we look at the past without rose-tinted glasses and recognize that claims by women, for example, are responses to historical denials of full membership in the American community. Building on the proposition that membership is the first and most essential element of any community, Walker credits the expansion of rights with making the American community more inclusive. For feminists to cast the First Amendment as the enemy of women's rights due to concerns about pornography, then, reflects "an astonishing example of historical amnesia." This strong case against critics of rights is weakened by Walker's reluctance to move outside the arena of law and the judiciary, however. Of course, rights have a logical, even overriding significance within a legal and constitutional system built around the status of the individual. But how are positive decisions aboutthe community's welfare to be made without a common ground beyond individual rights? Limiting his discussion to legal protections without considering the problems of political action allows Walker to feel very good about rights but also reduces a potentially powerful analysis to a near polemic.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195090253
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Lexile: 1470L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Samuel Walker is the Kiewit Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska. He is the author of several books, among them In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (Oxford, 1990).

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 The Problem of Rights 3
Ch. 2 The Transformation of American Life 31
Ch. 3 Belonging to America: Rights and Membership 61
Ch. 4 Speaking and Belonging: Free Speech and Community 89
Ch. 5 The Confined and the Accused 115
Ch. 6 The Limits of Communitarianism 144
Ch. 7 Conclusion: New Rules for American Society 180
Notes 184
Index 211
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