After reading America’s Constitutional Soul, by Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., and The True and Only Heaven, by Christopher Lasch, I came to the realization that while they have varying ideas on many topics, they have similar conservative views regarding citizenship and civil rights.
Specifically, Mansfield discusses his belief that people are best served through a
representative government and does not believe that all citizens should be allowed to rule directly (Mansfield 141).
In this regard, Mansfield contends that people, in general, tend to be irrational and rely too much on feelings as opposed to reasoned conclusions (Mansfield 29-30).
Therefore, if a true
form of participatory democracy were practiced where all citizens have the right to actively
participate in the decision-making processes, Mansfield believes that our society would not benefit. Mansfield, in maintaining his views that citizens are easily swayed by their feelings instead of by intellectual reasoning, believes that professional, special interest groups that are savvy enough to capitalize on this human weakness, would sway the votes of the majority and earn themselves a majority vote. To combat this problem, Mansfield believes (as did our Founding Fathers when they
created the Electoral College), that a representative form of democracy is the more viable form of government which will better suit our society by assuring that rational, unselfish decisions will be made which will ultimately be needed for the progression of our free and democratic society
Our individual identity is shaped fundamentally by the society in which we live. However, identity is also shaped by an individual’s sense of self. Society plays a crucial role in forming a sense of identity by influencing the individual through the interactions, norms, and values that are accepted. If the individual carries out an action which doesn’t fit with our society, they are deemed a ...
Furthermore, in continuing with our discussion of citizenship, I believe that Mansfield believes that through the use of formal, government institutions, citizens are able to rise above self-interest. He points to the fact that our United States institution is an institution of formalized
behavior. This document requires that actions be formal. According to Mansfield, the United States Constitution is documented proof that citizens want self-government and that they have the ability, through formal processes set up by institutions, to rise above self-interest (Mansfield 151).
Similarly, Christopher Lasch seems to have the same doubts about citizens’ ability to
effectively decide on matters of importance. Through his discussions of Walter Lippman’s writings, “Public Opinion” and “The Phantom Public”, Lash appears to agree that the use of “self-governing” is not an effective form of Democracy (Lasch 364).
Lasch goes on to further set forth that the old ideas of citizenship are out-dated and that, in fact, citizens can no longer be viewed as “omnicompetent” or as “jack of all trades” (Lasch 364).
Lasch and Mansfield both seem to doubt the abilities of the average citizens and do not believe that we should entrust them with decisions which affect the society. Lasch even goes so far as to say that the government needs to be, “carried on by officials who were expected to ‘conceive a common interest’ – guided by public opinion or expert knowledge” (Lasch 365).
Lasch believed that because our society is set up as it is (i.e., vast division of labor and distribution of wealth and power), it can not reasonably be expected to be governed by majority vote of the entire population (all with varying views and self-interested expectations).
In this respect, Mansfield and Lasch seem to agree that the powers of citizens, as a whole, should be limited in terms of their ability to actively
Another area which Mansfield and Lasch seem to have similar opinions is that regarding civil rights. Mansfield goes into great detail regarding how our government, through its formalized Constitution, protects the distinction between a person’s rights and their abilities to exercise those rights. In doing this, the Constitution is needed to limit the scope of the exercising of our rights
Henry David Thoreau was the most active participant in the Transcendentalist movement. He was a student and mentee of Ralph Waldo Emerson. While Emerson had transcendental ideas, Thoreau would act on them and fully practice them. Hence, he felt that he and others should resist America’s Civil Government. I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I ...
The underlying topic involved in the obtainment of rights and their exercise is “equality”. Mansfield believes that it is necessary for our democratic nation to always be striving towards equality. However, according to Mansfield, it should be realized by all representatives that equality is not a formalized guarantee (Mansfield 11-12).
In discussing civil rights, Mansfield does not go into great deal about civil rights by specifically referring to specific topics and events. Instead, he breaks this term down into two different ideas and discusses them in a definitive manner. Specifically, he sets forth that there are “natural” and civil rights. Natural rights are those rights that a civil society is founded on (i.e., life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness).
Civil rights, on the other hand, are the more specific and limited rights that are established in a civilized society (Mansfield 182-183).
Once again, Mansfield lauds institutions as being instrumental in securing and upholding the rights established in a
democratic society (Mansfield 183).
He distinguishes rights with and without a government by setting forth that a person may have unlimited rights in an area unfettered by government, but advises that they are not secure because there are no formalized institutions with which to uphold these rights
Mansfield is a staunch supporter of the Constitution, believing that it, in itself, is a Bill of Rights because it secures rights and is responsible for setting up the institution that makes the policies regarding those rights (Mansfield 184).
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Furthermore, he sets forth that the “post-Constitutional” rights should no longer be defined as “civil rights”. He prefers to characterize them
as “human rights,” noting that they are not a necessary part of a “civil society”. His believes this because of the fact that in order to exercise these “human rights”, a citizen no longer needs to contribute to society by “improving, maintaining or defending it” as a prerequisite to exercising such rights. Instead, Mansfield denounces these unfettered rights and characterizes them instead as “entitlements” which are costly and do nothing good for the society (Mansfield 186).
Finally, Mansfield discusses a problem with modern constitutionalism in that it makes civil liberties secondary to the natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Mansfield 207).
However, Mansfield believes that civil liberties are a way of obtaining those natural rights and that
these rights should be united instead of secondary to the other.
While Mansfield thoroughly discusses civil rights in a more general manner, Christopher Lasch, details his thoughts concerning the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties. Lasch believed that “progressive ideology [i.e. civil rights movements] weakened the spirit of sacrifice” (Lasch 80).
Once again, I believe that Lasch’s support of self-sacrifice, hard work, and (as with Mansfield) solid institutions, comes forth in his retelling of how the Civil Rights Movement saw its greatest moments of success (Lasch 394).
Lasch was, in my opinion, a great supporter of institutions and saw that the
civil rights movement lost its momentum when it swept to the North where, “there was an absence of institutions that would sustain the community’s morale” (Lasch 399).
Similarly, as Mansfield would concur, Lasch appears to be against reparation for those whose civil rights were hard fought and finally realized. In other words, Lasch was against compensatory programs. He believed that such programs, like Affirmative Action, had a damaging effect on the morale of the minority (Lasch 409).
It was Lasch’s belief that if minorities characterized themselves
as victims they would either remain passive (the quintessential victim) or they would become vindictive and self-righteous (Lasch 406).
The Term Paper on The Anthem Of The Civil Right’s Movement: A Rhetorical Criticism Of “We Shall Overcome”
Introduction The American traditional “We Shall Overcome,” is the song of the Civil Right’s struggle. From its roots in early spirituals to its re-imagination in twentieth century gospels, “We Shall Overcome” encompasses the history of the civil rights movement. Its collective longevity and deep roots in the African American community make it the perfect song for the movement. From performances by ...
As with any discussion of civil rights, it seems that the most obvious desire for equality surfaces as the next logical debate and, once again, it appears that Lasch and Mansfield concur that there is an obvious need for a more equitable distribution of wealth, but neither provides us with an
idea of how to ascertain such a lofty goal (Lasch 532).
In fact, Mansfield discusses how a democratic society, “must necessarily comprise of unequal relationships” and that true equality is really only attained by maintaining a sense of “dignity of inferiors and by restraining the pride of the
superiors” (Mansfield 194).
Lasch and Mansfield seem to agree on these issues even though their perspectives are so different, with Lasch discussing them from more of a social science level and Mansfield discussing them in terms of policy and form and both with more than a hint of conservatism in their thinking.