Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse

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9780029118238: Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse

Political speech in the United States is undergoing a crisis. Glendon's acclaimed book traces the evolution of the strident language of rights in America and shows how it has captured the nation's devotion to individualism and liberty, but omitted the American traditions of hospitality and care for the community.

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Here, Harvard Law School professor Glendon argues eloquently and persuasively that modern American political discourse, by emphasizing an ever-expanding catalogue of rights to the exclusion of duties and responsibilities, has lost the central role in civic life envisioned for it by the Founding Fathers. Glendon shows that, in American society, both sides in political debates frame issues in terms of individual rights--flag- burning, domestic relations, and human reproduction, for example- -and that this tendency impedes understanding and compromise. Such stark formulations, she says, ultimately lead to coerced, and often unsatisfying, social arrangements. Glendon makes a compelling case that the American political lexicon lacks a vocabulary for expressing normative and moral concepts that individual Americans understand and value highly, and that the legal culture, with its single-minded emphasis on obtaining civil rights (as opposed to cultivating moral norms), has actually contributed, albeit unwittingly, to the debasement of American political and legal discourse. Glendon calls for the inclusion of the ``missing language of responsibility'' and the ``missing language of sociality'' in American political dialogue, and for an increasing emphasis on individuals' responsibilities to their communities as a necessary concomitant to the rights they exercise. A forceful and valuable analysis of the banality of modern American public debate. -- Copyright 1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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