An unlikely hero: the origins of affirmative action during the Nixon administration

Yuill, Kevin (2001) An unlikely hero: the origins of affirmative action during the Nixon administration. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

PDF - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (20MB) | Preview


The dissertation builds upon the question of why Nixon, a Republican, implemented the first affirmative action programs. It is divided into three parts. The first charts the liberal approach to race relations and the crisis that attended its collapse. As Habermas noted, a "legitimation crisis" affected private institutions necessitating a new round of government intervention. This section explores the idea that affirmative action was part of this legitimation crisis, an administrative replacement for the failure of the post-war hope that racism would disappear after the destruction of formal barriers to black equality.

The second looks at the interventions of the Nixon administration. It argues that the Philadelphia Plan was less important in terms of later affirmative action than is usually thought. Other programs (such as the OMBE) developed around the same time became more significant. 1970 became the year that programs aimed at reforming ghettos transformed into programs aimed at strengthening the black middle-class. Nixon, though often characterised as "aprincipled," had what Garry Wills termed "the right to earn" in mind when pushing through the Philadelphia Plan in Congress. All Americans - black and white - should have this right, he reasoned. The present-day sides of the argument had yet to be formed and in 1972 Nixon saw no fundamental contradiction in insisting that quotas not curtail the rights of white workers.

The third section examines why the issue of affirmative action seemed to follow the implementation of affirmative action programs. Here, it is suggested that the changing intellectual climate surrounding the introduction of the first affirmative action programs transformed piecemeal civil rights programs into a broad policy model and ensured that controversy followed. Early affirmative action policies, this section demonstrates, caused little controversy before (at least) 1973. The sides of the debate had yet to be formed. John Rawls' work is examined as an expression of the need to replace liberal institutions - such as the allocation of resources on the basis of merit. The Club of Rome's The Limits to Growth similarly focussed attention onto the realm of distribution rather than that of production, moving from Kennedy's perspective" a rising tide lifts all boats" - to one of affirmative action. Affirmative action measures were both necessary as a mechanism of distribution and a constant focus of complaint as different groups argued over relative shares.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: King, R.H.
Ling, P.J.
Keywords: Richard Nixon, Nixon administration, affirmative action programs, affirmative action programmes, civil rights
Subjects: E History - America > E151 United States (General)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of American and Canadian Studies
Item ID: 11567
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 07 Oct 2010 08:11
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2017 14:26

Actions (Archive Staff Only)

Edit View Edit View