Second-Hand Dreams

in Social Analysis

The tragedy of the age of integration (1954 onward) in the United States is that it overlapped with the demise of the social-wage state and with the rise of the neo-liberal social order. Whereas the civil rights movement fought for the widest provision of dignity, the guardians of the American state have reduced this vision to one concession: that all people will have certain rights vested in the state. When the US Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, it ended legal segregation in the US. That, combined with the judicial decisions that culminated in 1954 in the Brown v. Board of Education decision, was immense, and its victory should not be underestimated or misunderstood. Within a generation, people’s struggles had destroyed the statutory acceptance of Jim Crow and put in its place high-minded ideas of equal rights. By the logic of bourgeois democracy, the state is the guardian of those rights—the right to vote, along with all the other rights assembled in the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution. The problem is that the state, by the late 1960s, was not the same institution. The guardians of the state had dismantled the social-wage state, leaving citizens with high-minded norms as it gutted the institutions that could respond to them. The first-class visions of the civil rights movement would collapse into the second-class nightmare of our times.