Civil Rights under Reagan

Civil Rights under Reagan

Civil Rights under Reagan

Civil Rights under Reagan


"Civil Rights Under Reagan'" is a masterful look at race relations and policy in America. Polls on racial attitudes show that the vast majority of Americans - including black Americans - believe our system should be color-blind. This fascinating book documents the Reagan administration's attempt - and failure - to abolish race-sensitive civil rights policies.

Reagan's campaign against affirmative action was bitterly opposed by the civil rights community. "Civil Right Under Reagan" argues that the body of civil rights law "legislated" by judges and supported by an elite group of academics, lawyers, and journalists proved remarkably resistant to change through the democratic process. The Reagan administration's only real success came after it left office, when its Supreme Court appointees led the way in scaling back the scope of affirmative action - an ironic postscript for a president who railed against legislating through the courts.


Racial politics is volatile because it asks the most profound of questions: What is a just society? How should it be achieved?

The answers are uncertain, in no small part because "civil rights" has come to mean many things to many people. Its original concept is the classic liberal ideal of nondiscrimination, articulated so powerfully by the ReverendMartin Luther King, Jr., in his I Have a Dream speech and enshrined in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Then there is the more recent and much more controversial idea of "affirmative action," or policies that favor members of defined groups (women, certain racial and ethnic minorities) at the expense of members of other groups.

Some believe these two visions are harmonious. Most Americans believe them to be radically opposed. When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, he promised to end preferential policies and return the nation to a color-blind system. Eight years later, preferential policies remained. Why did President Reagan have so little success in actually changing civil rights law?

The question is important because it cuts to the heart of how we might go about creating a just society. Despite the inflamed public rhetoric over racial issues, the civil rights battle since 1964 has been waged largely in the courts, the branch of government least responsive to the wishes of citizens. the "legislation" of civil rights law by an elite group of judges, lawyers, and administrators has estranged an entire generation of Americans from questions of racial justice. in the end this book questions whether it is still possible for Americans to create, through democratic and self-governing institutions, a just society, one in which we will be judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin.

Robert B. Hawkins, Jr., President Institute for Contemporary Studies . . .

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