International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Elsevier, 2014, Forthcoming
6 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2014 Last revised: 13 Jul 2015
Date Written: March 17, 2014
Civil rights are legal protections of individuals or groups from certain forms of oppression that gained widespread acceptance throughout the world in the last half of the 20th century and continuing into the 21st century. The origins of civil rights can be found in practices of governments or powerful individuals or institutions that came to be viewed as oppressive, although these are often obscured in foundational or origin stories that take on an abstract, timeless quality. The most common civil rights are prohibition of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion and gender; the right to personal security, including protections for persons accused or suspected of crimes; the right to vote and to participate in democratic political processes; and freedom of expression, association and religion. Civil rights lose their significance if they are not available to all people, but the failure to acknowledge conflicting rights and the interconnectedness of rights, interests, privileges and expectations has made acceptance of civil rights advances more difficult than it has to be, particularly in countries where rights tend to be articulated in absolutist terms. The most troubling questions about civil rights have centered on which rights are protected, their content and formulation, and their enforcement. The model of judicial primacy in the United States produced two periods of historic protection of civil rights available to people of ordinary means, but no single source or enforcement mechanism for civil rights has proved consistently superior to others. Establishment and enforcement seem most effective when accomplished by popular and participatory means, and popular understanding of the importance and history of civil rights is probably the most significant factor in their continued vitality.
Keywords: Civil rights, human rights, freedom, liberty, democracy, equality
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Kairys, David, Civil Rights (March 17, 2014). International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Elsevier, 2014, Forthcoming; Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-07. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2405620