Yet by the (unexpectedly hastened) end of his administration, these plans were in ruins. Most of the expansions of power he had envisioned had been forestalled or greatly circumscribed; the nation was engaging in widespread civil disobedience against measures such as the 55-mph national speed limit; and, to the surprise and horror of those who followed the prevailing intellectual consensus, Ronald Reagan had been chosen to take Carter’s place. Although it wasn’t fully appreciated at the time, Reagan’s replacement of Carter marked a critical point (not the first, in fact, but the first generally noticed) of a great U-turn in American politics and society.
For decades — at a minimum, since the beginning of the Progressive Era, and arguably earlier — America had been on a course toward a more centralized society, one in which individualism as it had been understood since before the Founding — a society built on independent families living on their own properties, most of them farms — was being replaced by a different vision. The progressive vision was one of citizens as employees whose existence was mediated by negotiations among large corporations, unions, and government agencies. For such subjects, “rights” were to be a designated set of entitlements granted by those organizations.