The Corner

Civil Rights and the Transformation of Liberalism

Thomas F. Powers, writing in 2001:

For very good reasons, Americans are devoted both to the liberal political framework of politics and to a policy of fighting discrimination. But in ways that we do not adequately appreciate, anti-discrimination transforms and at points even breaks with the liberal tradition. Thus American politics today orients itself by two competing moral and political polestars–anti-discrimination and liberalism–and this explains a great deal of the confusion surrounding our political debate on a number of divisive issues. . . .

[A]nti-discrimination challenges the liberal understanding of the relationship between politics and morality. Against the liberal inclination, anti-discrimination makes the legislation of morality an open and explicit part of American politics, shaping a new ideal of democratic citizenship.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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