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The Second Bill Of Rights: FDR's UNfinished Revolution-- And Why We Need It More Than Ever Hardcover – June 29, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While it doesn't succeed in making Franklin Roosevelt into a constitutional innovator, this disheveled book does bring into focus FDR's forgotten effort to address domestic "security," as WWII neared its climax. Roosevelt's inaugural address of January 11, 1944, asked Congress to adopt a "second Bill of Rights": guarantees of work, adequate housing and income, medical care and education, among others—promises designed to extend the New Deal (and thwart the appeal of communism). The indefatigable Sunstein (Why Societies Need Dissent, etc.) sketches Roosevelt's domestic policies and the logistics of the inaugural address (included in full in an appendix), then debates the never-adopted bill's merits, historically as its ideas kicked around in the post WWII-era, and as it might be taken up today. He tends to be scanty on the bill's potential budgetary toll and on the responsibility for one's own welfare that FDR thought the bill's beneficiaries ought to bear. Sunstein roams widely over legal history and precedent, but is focused and clear in showing how FDR sowed the seeds of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in whose 1948 drafting Eleanor Roosevelt played a crucial role) and energetic in discussing this proposal's further possible legacy.
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"[Designing Democracy is] a nuanced but spirited journal across a broad terrain of constitutional issues.... This approach brings a fresh perspective to many of the well-worn but still vital issues of American constitutional debate."

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (June 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465083323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465083329
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #615,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I won't bore you with all the things that are good about this book (as usual, Sunstein's scholarship is first-rate, his prose is easy on the eyes even as the ideas are challenging to the mind). I'll get straight to my two problems with the substance of his advocacy of Roosevelt's "Second Bill of Rights", which encompass social-welfare rights not included in our actual Bill:

1) While Sunstein is careful to thoroughly review just about all possible objections - political, economic, legal, and moral - that one could throw at the idea of an expanded array of social-economic rights, the one he spends most of his time on is an attack on the "laissez-faire" idea that classic first-bill rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, property rights, and freedom of contract, are cost-free and don't require an active "government".

Sunstein shows that they do. But, the problem here is that he is demolishing a straw-man. I don't know of *any* modern "conservative" thinker who would disagree with the idea that a free market requires a significant amount of government - an elaborate legal system to enforce contracts, remedy fraud, document transactions; police and military forces to protect property, etc. Sunstein even quotes key free-market philosophers, such as Friedrich Hayek, to that effect. The only ones who truly believe in a literal absence of government are anarchists, and most conservative thinkers despise anarchists as much as they do leftists. No, the issue isn't whether we should have government or not have it, the issue is how *much* government we should have. By attacking an opponent who does not (or at least no longer) exists, Sunstein dodges that issue.
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Format: Hardcover
book does a good job of analyzing many arguments for and against FDR's proposal. Only thing I thought it lacked was a thorough analyses of the consequence of not accepting FDR's bill as law. FDR's bill of rights needs to be realized in order for all Americans to exercise our existing bill of rights. Especially that of the right of pursuit of happiness. Because, in the current system that nurtures individual greed, majority of the people are just too busy pursuing to secure shelter, health care, decent education, job etc and has no time to pursue happiness. these things should be a basic right of all so that people can truly pursue happiness instead of wasting a life time on securing the basics. If FDR's bill of right does not become a reality, sooner or later people will realize that they are in a hopeless situation created by the super rich and start a revolution.....If the super rich are smart, they should work hard to make FDR's bill into law, because this will make it possible for them to enjoy their riches for a long time without the threat of revolution where their amassed riches will be taken away by force as well as make them more rich because it will create more consumers to consume products and services produced by their industries.

If FDR's 2nd bill of rights does not become policy of this nation; it will surely be overthrown by a revolution. Revolution is just that; the have-nots will rise up and take away the haves wealth and the whole thing will start over. Many generations down the line; the new group of have-nots will overthrow the haves of that time and start another revolution. Just like the term "revolution" indicates; The current system is a perfect recipe of continual Revolutions; around and around.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Cass does an awesome job framing the reasoning behind FDR's second bill of rights and then takes us on a constitutional and historic journey. I learned a ton of valuable information thank you Cass.
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Format: Hardcover
Professor Sunstein recovers FDR's 1944 State of the Union address from the dust bin of history. The speech makes a compelling case for the proposition that each of us has inherent economic rights; not just civil and political rights. Among these rights are a right to a useful and remunerative job, and the right to earn enough to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, and recreation.

In part two of the book Sunstein however argues that these rights are not recognized in the Constitution. Rather they are "constitutive commitments," fundamental aspects of how we understand what America is about. In part three of the book he explains why it is that these now universally recognized human economic rights should not be considered Constitutional rights.

Professor Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School, a Fellow at the Hoover Institute, and a scholar of the Cato Institute argues in his book How Progressives Rewrote the Constitution, almost as a counter-point, that the Supreme Court wrongly embraced FDR's social-economic revolution.

Reading these two together permits one to reflect on the role of the Supreme Court in effecting social change, the meaning and limits of the Constitution, and just what kind of a government the founders envisioned; and better understand the real stake in the debates about appointments to the Supreme Court.

For good measure one might also read Sotorios Barber's Welfare and the Constitution, a compelling case that the Constitution authorizes, even requires positive government. In other words, the government is, in fairness to President Reagan, part of the problem; but at the same time it is also a necessary part of the solution.
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