The Public Interest

The transformation of liberalism, 1964 to 2001

Thomas F. Powers

Fall 2001

TODAY, Americans take for granted, at the level of policy and principle, a commitment to fighting racism, sexism, and other forms of unjust discrimination.  But the idea of anti-discrimination is in many ways a remarkable discovery in the history of modern democracy. The depth and seriousness of our commitment to this effort, despite its novel and even unprecedented character, is perhaps a large part of the reason we do not probe too deeply in thinking about it. But if we wish to see the full meaning of democratic citizenship in America today, we must become more fully conscious of this new pillar of our political order. Though a term of negative construction, anti-discrimination defines the positive meaning of equal citizenship today, and debates about it are at the heart of our civic and moral self-understanding.  Above all, we must gain a more accurate view of the relation between anti-discrimination and America’s liberal democratic tradition.

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