Chapter 1: Freedom, Order, or Equality? Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 11 January 2006
Chapter 1: Freedom, Order, or Equality?

To govern means to make choices. What roles should government assume? What are the costs and benefits? Who will be the winners and losers? What norms or values are reaffirmed or threatened when government makes policy choices?

Freedom, order, and equality are pivotal concepts for understanding American politics. All governments strive to maintain order, and most claim to respect individual freedoms in the process. Some, but not all, governments aspire to ensure equality. Government decisions to place strong emphasis on one of the values may result in the shortchanging of another. Stricter law enforcement measures may impinge on individual freedom.

Governments have to make hard choices to determine an acceptable balance between these often conflicting norms. Two models of democratic government, majoritarian democracy and pluralist democracy, will be employed to assess the choice-making process in the United States.

Despite the long-standing debate over how limited or pervasive the role of government should be, most scholars would identify three basic purposes: (1) to maintain order by preserving life and protecting property; (2) to provide public goods such as highways, schools, and national parks; and (3) to promote equality through health and welfare programs and social equality policies. The third purpose is both the most recent (arising in the United States in the Great Depression of the 1930s) and the most controversial.

Political and ideological beliefs, about the scope of government authority or control, range on a continuum from totalitarianism, which represents total government control of all aspects of society of society, to anarchism, which places the highest value on freedom and is in opposition to any form of government. Between these extremes lie socialism, capitalism, and libertarianism, political philosophies that advocate, in decreasing order, the responsibility of government in economic and political matters. Communism is placed by some in the socialism category, whereas others see it as an instance of totalitarianism. The United States, with its emphasis on free enterprise, is clearly a capitalist country. Its two broad ideological doctrines, liberalism and conservatism, both endorse capitalism but differ on the extent of government intervention in the economy.

The original dilemma of government arose from the need to maintain order, even if that meant yielding individual freedom. The modern dilemma of government in the 1990s arises from the desire to promote equalityÐonce again at the cost of individual freedom. Evidence of the tradeoffs between these three valuesÐfreedom, order, and equalityÐrecurs throughout the book. The conflicts between freedom and order are usually obvious, but those between freedom and equality are often more subtle. Therefore, they receive more scrutiny.

Different political usage of the words freedom and equality as well as liberal and conservative lead to their conveying different meanings to different people over time. Freedom is used both in the sense of "freedom of" (which is equivalent to liberty) and in the sense of "freedom from" (which suggests equality). Similarly, equality is used in several senses: the important distinctions are political equality, social equality, equality of opportunity, and equality of outcome.

Traditionally, liberal and conservatives have been linked to opposite poles on a single dimension: breadth of government activity. The familiar distinction holds that liberals favor a larger role for government and conservatives a smaller role. This distinction, however, fails to take into account conservatives' greater emphasis on government's role in maintaining social order. By introducing the purpose of government actionÐwhether to maintain order or to promote equalityÐinto a two-dimensional classification of ideological types, we produce a more satisfactory typology. Liberals favor government action to promote equality, whereas conservatives favor government action to promote order. Libertarians favor freedom and oppose government action to promote either equality or order. They stand in contrast to communitarians, who favor government actions for either purpose

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