This Essay argues that exercising privilege responsibly is particularly difficult in the United States, whose culture rests more than any other on formal commitment to the equality and dignity of the individual. This is because our legal culture not only disavows privilege formally but also shifts responsibility for the moral character of people’s social behavior away from individual actors and onto the abstract institutions of politics and markets.
The culture has, however, from time to time thrown up occasional examples of individuals and groups who did manage to exercise virtue in public life and, in doing so, kept the country’s original ideals alive while adapting them to changed circumstances. Professor McEvoy provides an overview of these occasional examples, notably the anti-slavery and civil rights movements and the twentieth-century campaign to advance the rights of industrial workers.
Professor McEvoy argues that these movements, and others like them, may offer hints as to how politics might acknowledge privilege while making it responsible, to individuals, to the society at large, and to history.
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