Community, Contract, and the Death of Social Citizenship

December 31, 1998

When twenty-first-century historians look back to American society in the 1980s and 1990s, they will note that on one policy front after another, longstanding understandings were being renegotiated. It was a haphazard process, carried on in bits and starts; and as always in matters of history, not everything pointed in the same direction. But there was a theme to this dialectic of action, reaction, and counterreaction. Born of the Depression and tempered in World War II, the idea of social citizenship (a consensus among the public that citizens are entitled to social as well as civil and political rights) was finally dying, as was the generation of Americans who had experienced a sense of national solidarity as something real in their lives.

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