Caste, Class, and Equal Citizenship

There is a familiar egalitarian constitutional tradition and another we have largely forgotten. The familiar one springs from Brown v. Board of Education; its roots lie in the Reconstruction era. Court-centered and countermajoritarian, it takes aim at caste and racial subordination. The forgotten one also originated with Reconstruction, but it was a majoritarian tradition, addressing its arguments to lawmakers and citizens, not to courts. Aimed against harsh class inequalities, it centered on decent work and livelihoods, social provision, and a measure of economic independence and democracy. Borrowing a phrase from its Progressive Era proponents, I will call it the social citizenship tradition. My thesis is that the seemingly separate fates and flaws of these two egalitarian constitutional outlooks are joined. By retrieving the history of the social citizenship tradition and its buried links to the court-centered ideal of the Constitution as safeguard of “discrete and insular minorities,” I hope to deepen and change our understanding of liberal constitutionalism and its discontents today.