The Cultivation of Resentment: Treaty Rights and the New Right

The Cultivation of Resentment: Treaty Rights and the New Right

The Cultivation of Resentment: Treaty Rights and the New Right

The Cultivation of Resentment: Treaty Rights and the New Right

Synopsis

The Cultivation of Resentment is one of the first book-length examinations of how grassroots conservative activists use rights discourse to pursue their political goals. It argues that conservative activists engage in frequent and sincere mobilizations of rights talk- a discourse that includes accusations that socially marginal Americans are seeking un-American, "special" rights that violate the nation's commitment to equal rights. The Cultivation of Resentment finds that such rights talk is central both to the identities of conservative activists and to the broad appeal of modern New Right politics.

However, through an in-depth case study of opposition on the Indian treaty rights, this book establishes that the impact of conservative rights talk is ultimately ambiguous. While conservative rights discourse effectively expresses the nationalistic resentment that saturates New Right politics, it deflects critical scrutiny from the actual causes of that resentment. By tracing the interplay of rights and resentment, The Cultivation of Resentment adds new insight to the prevailing scholarship on law and politics, which typically overlooks the importance of rights discourse for conservative politics.

Excerpt

Rights discourse is a central, though often neglected, feature of American conservative politics. Activist and rank-and-file conservatives, for example, engage in frequent, sophisticated, and sincere mobilizations of law and rights. The Cultivation of Resentment argues that these mobilizations are central both to the identity and to the appeal of conservative politics. Moreover, the prominence of conservative legal mobilizations suggests that American rights discourse is more ubiquitous and flexible than is typically assumed. American rights discourse, accordingly, should be viewed as a potent resource both for those who seek, and for those who oppose, egalitarian social reform.

The analysis presented in this book proceeds from the understanding that the conservative adoption of the New Right political vision is a defining feature of modern American society. This political vision is marked by a dual resentment—of the political participation of historically disadvantaged citizens, on one hand, and of witless, naïve, and corrupt governmental officials and cultural elites, on the other hand. Accordingly, it portrays an America under siege from irresponsible and corrosive politics. This nationalistic resentment is often noted by scholars of American conservatism as a crucial element of the New Right's popular appeal. However, few scholars appreciate the increasingly specific form that this resentment takes. Conservatives argue that the abuse of law, and particularly of rights, is central to national decline. Conservatives maintain that formerly excluded groups misuse rights to persuade public officials to elevate minority interests over the interests of all other citizens. Accordingly, the resentment that infuses New Right activism is frequently cast in a rights-based idiom that excoriates formerly excluded groups for claiming “special” rights that violate the “equal” rights of all other Americans. Conservative activists at once champion as patriotic rights claims . . .

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