What is the right relationship between rights and duties in a well-functioning society? 

Consider the chart embedded above (which you may also see here (Links to an external site.) ).  It graphs the relative frequency of the use of two words in the text of millions of books published in America between 1790 (when the new government under the U.S. Constitution began) and 2008, when the database (Google Books) from which these results are mined leaves off.  What do you notice here about the relative popularity of mentions of “duty” versus “rights” over time in American print culture?  Which term has generally gained popularity over time in U.S. history?  Which term has lost relative popularity over time?

In principle, what is the right relationship between rights and duties in a well-functioning society?  In 1790, James Wilson, a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution, sought to answer that in this remarkable address (Links to an external site.) .  Wilson argued that “to each class of rights, a class of duties is correspondent.”  What do you think that means?

Now, look back at the above-embedded chart.  Why might have Americans become increasingly concerned about “rights” over “duties?”  Might any of those reasons have been legitimate in themselves? Where is the “hinge point” on the chart–the era in time in which the two lines, and relative popularity of the two terms, were closest to balanced?  What moral and political debate was dominating American politics in that period?   Are their upsides to the pre-occupation with “rights” over “duties” in more-rent American culture?  Are there “downsides” to focusing, as it seems that we do today, more on “rights” than “duties?”  Is there a way forward in social and political debate that might duly emphasize both rights and duties?  How might things change if we did so?  Need we do so?  Give here your careful analysis and respectfully dialog here with others in the course on these questions.

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