The Great Society at Fifty
The Triumph and the Tragedy
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May 22, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “Great Society” address, delivered at the spring commencement for the University of Michigan. That speech remains the most ambitious call to date by any American president to use the awesome powers of the American state to affect a far-reaching transformation for the society that state was established to serve. It also stands as the high-water mark for Washington’s confidence in the broad meliorative properties of government social policy, scientifically applied. Half a century later, how should we assess the Great Society? What has been its legacy—both for good and for ill—for those alive today, who have inherited a world so decisively shaped by it? Demographer and scholar Nicholas Eberstadt considers post-1964 America’s record on two ostensibly separate but actually tightly related fronts: civil rights and poverty alleviation.