Sunday, February 26, 2006

My dissertation Abstract

Here follows my disseration abstract for "A Tale of Two Citizenships: The Economic Rights Discourse of Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt." Chapters available upon request.


Two Episodes in the American Discourse of Economic Rights: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan

Jayson Harsin

This study examines the concept and the discontinuous historical usage of the term “economic rights” in American political discourse. The study views the idea and ideology of “economic rights” as a discursive marker pointing to historically contingent relations between government, national economy and individual freedom. It focuses on the two American presidential articulations of an Economic Bill of Rights: one by Franklin Roosevelt and another by Ronald Reagan. These two articulations represent two opposing political traditions of economic rights in the United States: the neo-liberal laissez-faire free market tradition and the liberal welfare-state tradition. Both of these liberal traditions are haunted by an older republican discourse of economic rights, from which they continue to draw normative and affective energy without ever confronting its guiding premises.

Further, this study explores the role of rhetorical agency in influencing the way “economic rights” are understood. It attends to the ways in which historical conjunctures pose limits on the articulations of political ideas and identities, and the way in which key actors like Roosevelt and Reagan respond skillfully to those conjunctural constraints, while others fail. The study argues that Roosevelt and Reagan used many of the very same arguments to propose two diametrically opposed conceptualizations of an Economic Bill of Rights. Their respective efforts attest to the importance of rhetoric in the struggle for political.

Finally, the study argues that while American political discourse has been saturated by “rights talk,” economic rights have not enjoyed the same currency as other rights, largely due to deeply entrenched though historically outdated understandings of the promise and possibilities of individual freedom and autonomy within the folds of a society completely transformed by capitalist modernity. The neglected history of economic rights discourse in the United States is a phantom history of the American public sphere, of the limits on American political participation or citizenship, of the continual irresolution of racial conflicts, and of alternative modernities.

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