The American Language of Rights (Ideas in Context)

By Richard A. Primus

Richard A. Primus examines 3 the most important sessions in American background (the overdue eighteenth century, the Civil battle and the Fifties and Nineteen Sixties) and demonstrates how the conceptions of rights winning at every one of those occasions grew out of competition to concrete political instances. within the first research of its type, Primus highlights the impression of totalitarianism (in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union) at the language of rights. This ebook may be a big contribution to modern political conception, of curiosity to students and scholars in politics and executive, constitutional legislations, and American heritage.

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D. Zevin, ed. , Nothing to Fear: The Selected Addresses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1932–1945 (Hodder & Stoughton, 1947), pp. 387–397, at  p. 396. Page 182 especially racial discrimination. The reaction against the depression that produced Roosevelt's call for an economic bill of rights had little connection to rights of  privacy, racial equality, free expression and so on that were central to post­war rights discourse. In fact, the New Deal and post­war patterns in rights thinking are not  only distinct but in some ways in conflict with each other. The New Deal required the judiciary to decline rigorous enforcement of individual liberties once thought  fundamental, notably the "absolute property right. " In contrast, judicial activism in the name of fundamental rights was a central feature of post­war rights discourse. 7  The tension between these two approaches to rights implies that the rights discourse of the post­war period operates under important influences different from those  shaping the New Deal. As will be argued below, the agendas shaping post­war conceptions of rights have key roots not only in the 1930s but in the 1940s and  past. The Return of Foundationalism In 1950, in the preface to The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt wrote that antisemitism, imperialism, and totalitarianism, . . . one after the other, one more brutally than the other, have demonstrated that human dignity needs a new guarantee which can be found only in a new political principle, in a  new law on earth, whose validity this time must comprehend the whole of humanity. eight Arendt here endorsed several overlapping themes of post­war American moral theory. The language of "human dignity" was one. Universality was another. A third  was the need for a principle, a theoretical ground for opposition to the evils that totalitarianism had made manifest. 9 All of these themes were part of a general renewal 7  For examples of the earlier period's concern with property rights and the Supreme Court's shift toward judicial restraint during the New Deal, see Lochner; Nebbia v. New York, 291  U. S. 502 (1934); West Coast Hotel. For renewed judicial activism regarding fundamental and even unenumerated rights after World War II, see Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka,  347 U. S. 483 (1954); Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479 (1965); Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113 (1973). Whether these two courses of action are compatible was perhaps the central  preoccupation of American constitutional scholarship in the last third of the twentieth century. eight  Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. ix. nine  The version of classical liberal philosophy that makes the most use of the concept of "human dignity" — Kantianism — was rediscovered by American political philosophers in the  post­war period and put to work to supply a new comprehensive theory of universal justice. The Kantian renaissance in America cannot, of course, be wholly ascribed to a social need  to ground universal morality. Other incidental factors contributed to this pattern as well, (footnote continued on next page)    Page 183 of political philosophy in the United States, a renewal substantially prompted by the confrontation with totalitarianism.

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