Failed Revolutions: Social Reform and the Limits of Legal Imagination

By Richard Delgado; Jean Stefancic | Go to book overview

Conclusion

If one lesson emerged from our study, it is that the task of social reform is more difficult than we like to think. Our imaginative capacities are often not up to the task of visualizing a better world. Our very language and tools of thought stand in the way, preventing us from hearing or appreciating what an outsider group is saying. We overlook evidence in front of us or translate claims into safer, tamer versions. When reform begins to seem necessary, we embrace moderate saviors espousing moderate solutions rather than persevere until we find more sweeping, long-lasting ones. We disparage reformers, condemning them as opportunistic, painting their demands as encroachments on our own justified prerogatives.

What can we conclude from the portrait of frustrated reforms and blocked progress we have drawn? In the final sections of many of the chapters, we put forward a number of suggestions. We can act decisively in cases of racism, sexism, or other forms of injustice that we do see, treating them in effect as proxies for those we know are hidden--hidden because they occur out of our view or because a failure of empathy prevents us from seeing them. We can use past rather than present injustice, which is much more difficult to notice or acknowledge, in designing social programs. We can distrust the ability of free-market solutions, including the marketplace of ideas, to dispel systemic social ills, at the same time empowering minority speakers and actors so that they can play more active roles in that market. We can pay particular attention to what our mavericks and reformers are saying, even those whose demands strike us as harsh and extreme.

We can remind ourselves how failure to act may bring condemnation in history's judgment. We can attempt to understand how seemingly fair, "objective" social and legal rules favor the powerful and remind ourselves to make the gestalt switch that can enable us to detect the power dimension of social rules and practices. We can refuse to join in derision aimed at the poor and outcast.

-143-

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