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The Inner Logic of Civil Rights

In 1861 U.S. President Abraham Lincoln  launched a war of conquest against the South, and legend claims it was all for the abolition of slavery, officially declared by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.  Yet exactly 101 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the forcefully reinstated Union, signed the Civil Rights Act prohibiting “discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin.”  As Martin Luther King, Jr., had put it the preceding year, “Americans one hundred years after, must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free,” and that equality was still a word unable to hide “segregation and racial injustice.”

I would like to suggest there is more than meets the eye in a claim that, taken at face value, may look reasonable, if not simply humane.  As everyone knows, ideas have consequences—some immediate, others slowly unraveling as the idea gradually takes root in the public mind.  The latter is precisely what happened with the idea that initiated the civil-rights movement.

In democratic societies, citizens are supposed to enjoy equal opportunity to achieve their happiness, whatever this may mean for each one.  Which is what Thomas Jefferson said, declaring it self-evident that men, having been created equal, are endowed with unalienable rights, notably...

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