Affirmative Action And The American Creed

Affirmative Action And The American Creed

Seymour Martin Lipset

Despite the great civil-rights triumphs of the 1960s, the politics of race once again occupies center stage in American life. Yet what appears to be a conflict between blacks and whites, Seymour Martin Lipset argues, is more a struggle between the American public and the nation's political elite over the true meaning of equality.

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No achievement of 20th-century American politics surpasses the creation of an enduring national consensus on civil rights. This consensus was forged during the past quarter century by a civil-rights movement that compelled Americans finally to confront the wide gap between their treatment of blacks and the egalitarian values of their own cherished national creed.

In recent years, however, the leaders of the civil-rights movement have shifted the focus from the pursuit of equal opportunity to the pursuit of substantive equality through policies of preferential treatment. This has brought matters to a difficult pass, because most Americans, including many blacks, have not shifted with the leaders of the movement. The reason is not hard to find. While the civil-rights movement of the 1960s asked Americans to live up to a single unassailable ideal, today it sets up a conflict between two core American values: egalitarianism and individualism.

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