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This Is Not Civil Rights: Discovering Rights Talk in 1939 America (Chicago Series in Law and Society)


This Is Not Civil Rights: Discovering Rights Talk in 1939 America (Chicago Series in Law and Society) Cover


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Since at least the time of Tocqueville, observers have noted that Americans draw on the language of rights when expressing dissatisfaction with political and social conditions. As the United States confronts a complicated set of twenty-first-century problems, that tradition continues, with Americans invoking symbolic events of the founding era to frame calls for change. Most observers have been critical of such andldquo;rights talk.andrdquo; Scholars on the left worry that it limits the range of political demands to those that can be articulated as legally recognized rights, while conservatives fear that it creates unrealistic expectations of entitlement.
Drawing on a remarkable cache of Depression-era complaint letters written by ordinary Americans to the Justice Department, George I. Lovell challenges these common claims. Although the letters were written prior to the emergence of the modern civil rights movementandmdash;which most people assume is the origin of rights talkandmdash;many contain novel legal arguments, including expansive demands for new entitlements that went beyond what authorities had regarded as legitimate or required by law. Lovell demonstrates that rights talk is more malleable and less constraining than is generally believed. Americans, he shows, are capable of deploying idealized legal claims as a rhetorical tool for expressing their aspirations for a more just society while retaining a realistic understanding that the law often falls short of its own ideals.

About the Author

George I. Lovell is associate professor of political science at the University of Washington. He is the author of Legislative Deferrals.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1.and#160;Voices from Peoria

Chapter 2.and#160;The CRSand#8217;s Legal and Political Strategies for Improving Civil Rights Protections

Chapter 3.and#160;Dead Dogs, Bad Divorces, and, Dope-Peddling Sheriffs: The Subject Matter of Civil Rights Complaint Letters

Chapter 4.and#160;The Common Place of Lawyering: Using Legal and Constitutional Arguments to Support Novel Civil Rights Claims

Chapter 5.and#160;Underlying Commitments of Rights Claiming: Extralegal Persuasive Claims and Citizen Understandings of Law

Chapter 6.and#160;In Defense of Extravagant Rights Talk

Appendix: Notes on the Archival Sources




Product Details

Lovell, George I.
University of Chicago Press
Civil Rights
Politics-United States Politics
Edition Description:
Chicago Series in Law and Society
Publication Date:
1 halftone
9 x 6 in

Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Law » Civil Liberties and Human Rights
History and Social Science » Law » General
History and Social Science » Politics » United States » Politics
History and Social Science » US History » 20th Century » General

This Is Not Civil Rights: Discovering Rights Talk in 1939 America (Chicago Series in Law and Society) New Hardcover
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Product details 280 pages University of Chicago Press - English 9780226494036 Reviews:
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