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American Government

Mr. Bekemeyer

American Political Ideologies and the Purpose of Government

by Kenneth Janda, The Challenge of Democracy (9th ed.)

Please do not write on this classroom reading.

Much of American politics revolves around two dilemmas: freedom versus order and freedom versus equality. The two dilemmas do not account for all political conflict, but they help us gain insight into the workings of politics and organize the seemingly chaotic world of political events, actors, and issues.


Liberals Versus Conservatives: The New Differences
Liberals and conservatives are different, but their differences no longer hinge on the narrow question of the government’s role in providing public goods. Liberals do favor more spending for public goods and conservatives less, but this is no longer the critical difference between them. Today, that difference stems from their attitudes toward the purpose of government. Conservatives support the original purpose of government: maintaining social order. They are willing to use the coercive power of the state to force citizens to be orderly. They favor firm police action, swift and severe punishment for criminals, and more laws regulating behavior. Conservatives would not stop with defining, preventing, and punishing crime, however. They tend to want to preserve traditional patterns of social relations—the domestic role of women and the importance of religion in school and family life, for example. For this reason, they do not think government should impose equality.
Liberals are less likely than conservatives to want to use government power to maintain order. In general, liberals are more tolerant of alternative lifestyles—for example, homosexual behavior. Liberals do not shy away from using government coercion, but they use it for a different purpose: to promote equality. They support laws that ensure equal treatment of homosexuals in employment, housing and education; laws that require the busing of schoolchildren to achieve racial equality; laws that force private businesses to hire and promote women and members of minority groups; laws that require public transportation to provide equal access to the disabled; and laws that order cities and states to reapportion election districts so that minority voters can elect minority candidates to public office. Conservatives do not oppose equality, but they do not value it to the extent of using government’s power to enforce equality. For liberals, the use of that power to promote equality is both valid and necessary.

CLASSROOM READING


Liberals
Favor: Government activities that promote equality, such as affirmative action programs to employ minorities and increased spending on public housing.
Oppose: Government actions that restrict individual liberties, such as banning sexually explicit movies or mandatory testing for AIDS



Communitarians
Favor: Government activities that promote equality, such as affirmative action programs to employ minorities and increased spending on public housing.
Favor: Government actions that impose social order, such as banning sexually explicit movies or mandatory testing for AIDS.



Libertarians
Oppose: Government activities that interfere with the market, such as affirmative action programs to employ minorities and increased spending on public housing.
Oppose: Government actions that restrict individual liberties, such as banning sexually explicit movies or mandatory testing for AIDS


Conservatives
Oppose: Government activities that interfere with the market, such as affirmative action programs to employ minorities and increased spending on public housing.
Favor: Government actions that impose social order, such as banning sexually explicit movies or mandatory testing for AIDS.



A Two-Dimensional Classification of Ideologies

To classify liberal and conservative ideologies more accurately, we have to incorporate the values of freedom, order, and equality into the classification. We can do this by using the model above. It depicts the conflicting values along two separate dimensions, each anchored in maximum freedom at the lower left. One dimension extends horizontally from maximum freedom at the bottom to maximum equality at the top. Each box represents a different ideology type: libertarians, liberals, conservatives, and communitarians.


Libertarians value freedom more then order or equality. (We will use this term for people who have libertarian tendencies but may not accept the whole philosophy.) In practical terms, libertarians want minimal government intervention in both the economic and the social spheres. For example, they oppose affirmative action and laws that restrict transmission of sexually explicit material.
Liberals value freedom more then order but not more than equality. Liberals oppose laws that ban sexually explicit publications but support affirmative action. Conservatives value freedom more then equality but would restrict freedom to preserve social order. Conservatives oppose affirmative action but favor laws that restrict pornography.
Finally, we arrive at the ideological type positioned at the upper right above. This group values both equality and order more than freedom. Its members support both affirmative action and laws that restrict pornography. We will call this new group communitarians. The Oxford English Dictionary (1989) defines a communitarian as “a member of a community formed to put into practice communistic or socialistic theories.” The term is used more narrowly in contemporary politics to reflect the philosophy of the Communitarian Network, a political movement founded by sociologist Amitia Etzioni. This movement rejects both the liberal –conservative classification and the libertarian argument that “individuals should be left on their own to pursue their choices, rights, and self-interest.” Like liberals, Etzioni’s communitarians believe that there is a role for government in helping the disadvantaged. Like conservatives, they believe that government should be used to promote moral values, preserving the family through more stringent divorce laws, protecting against AIDS through testing programs, and limiting the dissemination of pornography, for example. Indeed, some observers have labeled President George W. Bush as a communitarian.
The Communitarian Network is not dedicated to big government, however. According to its platform, “The government should step in only to the extent that other social subsystems fail, rather than seek to replace them.” Nevertheless, in recognizing the collective nature of society, the network’s platform clearly distinguishes its philosophy from that of libertarianism:
It has been argued by libertarians that responsibilities are a personal matter that individuals are to judge which responsibilities they accept as theirs. As we see it, responsibilities are anchored in community. Reflecting what is expected of people; they educate their members to accept these values; and they praise them when they do and frown upon them when they do not.
Although it clearly embraces the Communitarian Network’s philosophy, our definition of communitarian (small c) is broader and more in keeping with the dictionary definition. Thus, communitarians favor government programs that promote both order and equality, somewhat in keeping with socialist theory.
By analyzing political ideologies on two dimensions rather than one, we can explain why people can seem to be liberal on one issue (favoring a broader scope of government action) and conservative on another (favoring less government action). The answer hinges on the purpose of a given government action: Which value does it promote, order or equality? According to our typology, only libertarians and communitarians are consistent in their attitude toward the scope of government activity, whatever its purpose. Libertarians value freedom so highly that they oppose most government efforts to enforce either order or equality. Communitarians (in our usage) are inclined to trade freedom for both order and equality. Liberals and conservatives, on the other hand, favor or oppose government activity depending on its purpose. As you will learn throughout the course, large groups of Americans fall into each of the four ideological categories. Because Americans increasingly choose four different resolutions to the original and modern dilemmas of government, the simple labels of liberal and conservative no longer describe contemporary political ideologies as well as they did in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.


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