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Ideology – What is Government
for Anyway?
GOVT 2305
In this section, I want to go a bit further than the
information providing about the key terms of
government and politics and dig a bit further
into the concept of ideology.
Some of this material was introduced in the
previous section so you should have general
familiarity with the terms “liberal” and
“conservative.” In this section we dig a bit
deeper into these and related concepts.
This is important because a full
understanding of ideology helps us come
to grips with what people want
government to do – or not do.
This section is meant to go over a full range
of viewpoints that people tend to have,
and to focus on those that are most
resonant in American politics.
Ideology can also provide cues for
people to make evaluations about
issue, candidates an many other
things. It helps determine public
opinion, much like party identification
We cover this aspect of ideology in the
section on public opinion later this
Ideology can apply not only to attitudes
about the governing system, but the
economic system as well.
It often begins with a conviction an
individual has about “how things ought to
be.” It then proceeds to positions on policy
question that attempt to make that
conviction a reality.
Let’s repeat the definition of
ideology offered previously.
A set of issue positions based on
some underlying value.
But there’s much more.
Let’s review a few:
- The body of ideas reflecting the social
needs and aspirations of an individual,
group, class, or culture.
- A set of doctrines or beliefs that form the
basis of a political, economic, or other
- a systematic body of concepts especially
about human life or culture
- a system of ideas and ideals, especially
one that forms the basis of economic or
political theory and policy
- An ideology is a set of opinions or beliefs
of a group or an individual. Very often
ideology refers to a set of political beliefs
or a set of ideas that characterize a
particular culture.
“Ideologies are systems of abstract
thought applied to public matters
and thus make this concept central
to politics. Implicitly every political
or economic tendency entails an
ideology whether or not it is
propounded as an explicit system
of thought.”
But the term not only refers to an
idea about how society ought to be
organized, but how that
organization can be best achieved.
I hope these help.
Next Section
Let’s spend a few moments on
political philosophy, or political
theory if you will.
There is an entire sub-discipline in
political science devoted to this.
Here’s a definition from the
Encyclopedia Britannica:
political philosophy, branch of philosophy that
is concerned, at the most abstract level, with the
concepts and arguments involved in political
opinion. The meaning of the term political is
itself one of the major problems of political
philosophy. Broadly, however, one may
characterize as political all those practices and
institutions that are concerned with
Political Philosophy has a long history. People
have long discussed what the right structure of
society ought to be, and what relationship ought
to exist between the state and the individual.
What extent of state control is appropriate?
What are the legitimate ends of government?
If you are interested, here’s a link
to an open Yale course:
Introduction to Political Philosophy.
And a few authors and books you
might find interesting:
by Aristotle
The Republic
The Prince
We will cover some of this material
– at least that part that is relevant
to this class – in an upcoming
section when we discuss the
philosophical history that lead to
the philosophical argument
presented in the Declaration of
Next Section
disputes we have
can be traced
back to disputes
over the French
Its an important
The term “ideology” was once used to describe the
study of the science of ideas.
It became used in the contemporary sense during the
French Revolution when conflict emerged over how
governments ought to be organized. This revolution
was different than the American Revolution in that
ideas played a more prominent role and people were
organized far more around those ideas. The American
Revolution was far more pragmatic and oriented
around self rule. The US Constitution as we will see is
rooted in a pragmatic view of human nature and self
interest. We will cover that soon enough.
The simple purpose of the French Revolution was to
overturn the French social and governing order – it had
been an absolute monarchy - and replace it with a
system that allowed for broader participation in the
affairs of government. That’s the simple story anyway.
It was similar to what occurred in Britain in the late
1680s, but more extreme since the French actually
killed off the aristocracy.
Many of the ideas that drove the French Revolution can
be traced back to John Locke, but as reinterpreted by
Rousseau and Voltaire. Collectively we can call them
members of the enlightenment.
Many of these authors sought to rethink the
basis of human society by imagining the
existence of a state of nature – a condition prior
to the development of governments – and
determining why rational individuals would
choose the leave the it.
This allowed for rethinking the reasons
governments exist and the relationship between
individuals and the government. Some
suggested that this allowed for radical rethinking
of what types of governing systems ought to
This was also used to justify
political revolutions against those
existing systems that could not be
justified under these new theories.
Like rule based on the divine right
of the monarch.
The French Revolution turned violent, which included
killing off much of the aristocracy. This led to an
influential line of criticism against the revolution from
Edmund Burke, a member of the British Parliament
who was a supporter of the American Revolution, and
the Glorious Revolution before it.
The French Revolution attempted to completely redo
the governing system. The American Revolution did not
– as we will see, the American constitutional system
was based on the British model. It did not reorder the
governing. It simply replaced who was in charge.
He wrote up
his criticism in
Reflections on
the Revolution
in France.
Click here for some choice quotes
from Burke. You’ll probably
recognize a few.
Example: “Those who don't know
history are destined to repeat it.”
He opposed the idea that
governments should be creation
upon abstract principles and rights
and was more in favor of building
governments upon ancient
institutions and arrangements.
He is often argued to be the
founder of the modern
conservative movement.
Many contemporary conservative
ideas are traced to him.
Burke argued that by completely replacing
the previous governing system, and
eliminating the people who knew how to
run it, the new French government lost
pragmatic knowledge and was doomed to
This was a criticism of ideology in general.
He disputed the idea that someone could
write out principles on paper and expect
them to work seamlessly.
Note that Burke was a supporter of
the American Revolution however.
He also argued that members of
Parliament should vote for the long
terms interests of the nation, not
the shorts terms needs of their
constituents. The trick was to
establish strong stable institutions.
His key point: Governing is difficult.
A good governing system contains
features that evolve over time due
to trial and error. No one knows
what will work or not work until it
is tried out.
Designing a political system from
scratch – one that works well – is
difficult, and very likely impossible.
Burke was a critic of “state of nature”
and “social contract” theories So was
David Hume.
Neither believed that a state of nature
ever really existed, or that
governments stemmed from a
contract people entered into where
they consented to form a government.
They believed that people were
social by nature and always existed
in a governing arrangement of
some sort which was modified
gradually over time.
There was never a state of nature,
in other words.
They believed change is possible, but only
if it done gradually in order to ensure that
social order – and the benefits that results
from a governing system that works – are
not lost while those changes occur.
He saw this happen in both the Glorious and
American Revolutions. He did not see this in the
French Revolution which led to social
disruptions across society.
This is important for our
understanding of one aspect of
contemporary ideological conflict.
Can a better society be achieved
quickly by implementing aggressive
policies designed to pursue certain
aims, or can these only be
established slowly?
One approach, which has come to be known as
Burkean Conservatism holds that change must be done
slowly. Certain goals – like equal protection before the
laws and expanded suffrage – are worth pursuing, but
not at the risk of undermining social stability.
What has become known as the liberal approach – but
was once known (maybe more properly) as
progressivism – argues that these goals must be
pursued diligently. Delays are only intended to prevent
their implementation and to limit the benefits of selfgovernment to a small set of people.
They supported reform not
In a very simple sense, conservatism
can be thought of as the preferred
ideology of those whose interests are
served by how things are already – the
status quo – and liberalism the
preferred ideology of those benefitted
by change, especially change that
expands participation and broadens
the benefits of self government.
Again, this can be contrasted with
the idea that certain assumptions
about how society ought to be
organized – based on the equal
rights of the individual – should be
that basis of a governing system.
The status quo can be transformed.
Thomas Paine,
among others,
supported such a
Paine is best known
as the author of
Common Sense,
which helped spread
the arguments
promoting the
But was also a supporter of the
French Revolution.
He argued
against Edmund
Burke’s position
on the French
Revolution in the
Rights of Man.
He argued that government should
be more deliberately tied into the
general population and more
aggressive policies should be
promoted to deal with the plight of
the poor.
The book had two parts:
“In Part I, Paine urged political rights for all men
because of their natural equality in the sight of God. All
forms of hereditary government, including the British
constitution, were condemned because they were
based on farce or force. Only a democratic republic
could be trusted to protect the equal political rights of
all men. Part II was even more radical for Paine argued
for a whole program of social legislation to deal with
the shocking condition of the poor.” – History Guide.
These led to his arrest for seditious
libel – a concept we will study
much later in class.
He was also a fierce critic of religion –
though was not an atheist. His later book,
The Age of Reason articulated his views:
“Paine rejected Christianity, denied that
the Bible was the revealed word of God,
condemned many of the Old Testament
stories as immoral and claimed that the
Gospels were marred by discrepancies.”
This also contrasts with Edmund
Burke who thought that religious
institutions provided necessary
stability in society.
In a recently
published book, a
noted writer makes
the argument that
the conflict between
Burke and Paine is
the course of the
ongoing conflict
conservatism and
liberalism today.
Click here for commentary.
Conservatism can trace its roots to Burke,
and his belief that government must rest
on tradition and progress must be slow
steady and gradual.
Liberalism can trace its roots to Paine and
his belief that government should rest on
reason – not tradition – and that broad
based problems can be solved by
governmental programs.
Each is also rooted in different
attitudes about the French
Over time, these ideologies have
been described as being either left
wing or right wing.
Click here for a look at the left –
right political spectrum.
From Wikipedia: “In left-right politics, left-wing
describes an outlook or specific position that
accepts or supports social equality, often in
opposition to social hierarchy and social
inequality. It typically involves a concern for
those in society who are perceived as
disadvantaged relative to others and an
assumption that there are unjustified
inequalities that need to be reduced or
From Wikipedia: “right-wing describes an
outlook or specific position that accepts or
supports social hierarchy or social inequality.
Social hierarchy and social inequality is viewed
by those affiliated with the Right as either
inevitable, natural, normal, or desirable,
whether it arises through traditional social
differences or from competition in market
economies. It typically accepts or justifies this
position on the basis of natural law or tradition.”
This sets the stage for the growth
of ideological movements in the
19th Century, much of which is still
impacting our discussion of politics
Keep this in mind as we go
forward: Ideological disputes are
often tied into self interest.
If current arrangements benefit
you, you might be conservative. If
you are benefitted by change, you
might be liberal.
Next Section
The history of ideological
movements after Burke and Paine
Here we will get familiar some of
the standard terms used to
describe ideologies:
Lets begin with two old terms from
British politics from the 18th
“Tory” refers to the political faction that supported the
divine right of the monarchy. They were resistant to
reform and supported the traditional authority of the
state. Toryism was popular with the nobility and
members of the King’s court.
“Whig” refers to the faction that supported a strong
Parliament – legislature – and a constitutional
monarchy. They wished to reduce the hierarchical
authority of the monarchy and put the monarch on par
with the legislature. Whigism was popular with the
emerging middle classes, especially the merchants who
were becoming more part of the House of Commons.
The Whigs would become influential in
development of the concept of classical
Their name
would also be
adopted by an
political party in
the 19 Century.
John Locke and Adam Smith – among many
other British authors – also developed a
variety of ideas that would culminate in an
ideological viewpoint based on the primary
importance of individual liberty.
Locke and Smith predate Burke and Paine,
but let’s worry so much about that right
We will also hold off on
discussing Locke here.
This will wait until we talk
about the development of
the arguments embedded
in the Declaration of
These ideas are sometimes
referred to as:
Classical Liberalism
Here’s a definition: Classical liberalism is a
philosophy committed to the ideal of
limited government and liberty of
individuals including freedom of religion,
speech, press, assembly, and free markets.
And here’s a You Tube with one man’s
answer to the question what is classical
Note that “classical liberalism” sounds a lot
like what we now call conservatism, or
more properly libertarianism.
We will discuss this shift further below, but in
the early 20th century the progressive
movement began using the term liberalism to
describe themselves, specifically they would call
themselves social liberals. This has led to the
obvious confusion about terminology.
Some background reading:
The Rise, Decline, and
Reemergence of Classical
It placed specific emphasis on
private property rights and argued
that the protection of property was
a central function of a governing
Its is argued that the founders of
the American Republic – though
they had differences – are best
referred to as classical liberals, or
Lockean Liberals.
You might consider reading: Lockean
Liberalism and the American Revolution.
Not surprisingly, the development
of classical liberalism accompanies
the development of capitalism.
A definition of capitalism: an
economic system characterized by
private or corporate ownership of
capital goods, by investments that
are determined by private decision,
and by prices, production, and the
distribution of goods that are
determined mainly by competition
in a free market
Capitalism isn’t specifically an ideology, but it’s
It claims that societies are best improved by
allowing individuals the ability to make and
implement decisions without immediate regard
to the outcome.
Here are a few
choice quotes from
Adam Smith, who is
argued to have
created the field of
economics and laid
the ground work for
the rise of
He wrote out
these idea in An
Inquiry into the
Nature and
Causes of the
Wealth of Nation.
You can find the
text here.
“Every individual...generally, indeed, neither intends to
promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is
promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to
that of foreign industry he intends only his own
security; and by directing that industry in such a
manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he
intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many
other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end
which was no part of his intention.”
His concept of the invisible hand of the marketplace
continues to influence supporters of capitalism. It
provides one of the stronger justifications for a
capitalist system.
“It is not from the benevolence of
the butcher, the brewer, or the
baker that we expect our dinner,
but from their regard to their own
“I have never known much good
done by those who affected to
trade for the public good.”
Smith was suspicious that the public good could
be improved by deliberate action. It was best
achieved by the allowing individuals the ability
to pursue their self interest.
The role of government is to facilitate the
establishment and maintenance of the
marketplace. This means providing a solid
currency, security for the production and
transportation of goods, infrastructure, and a
court system for the resolution of commercial
disputes. Little else apart from this is necessary.
Sounds more like Edmund Burke
than Thomas Paine.
It also sounds like recent
controversies between liberals –
who argue that government
programs that intend to directly
solve social problems can be
effective – and conservatives who
are more restrained in thinking this
is so.
An early student – and critic – of
capitalism was Karl Marx. Marx
was largely responsible for
He did, however, note the role it
played in increasing productivity,
wealth and innovation.
In the Communist
Manifesto Karl
Marx commented
on how capitalism
unleashed the
creativity of the
First: What is the bourgeois?
“of or characteristic of the middle
class, typically with reference to its
perceived materialistic values or
conventional attitudes.”
“The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to
pass that the brutal display of vigor in the
Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much
admire, found its fitting complement in the most
slothful indolence. It has been the first to show
what man's activity can bring about. It has
accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian
pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic
cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that
put in the shade all former exoduses of nations
and crusades . . .
. . . The bourgeoisie cannot exist without
constantly revolutionizing the instruments of
production, and thereby the relations of
production, and with them the whole relations
of society. Conservation of the old modes of
production in unaltered form, was, on the
contrary, the first condition of existence for all
earlier industrial classes. Constant
revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted
disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting
uncertainty and agitation distinguish the
bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. . . .
. . . All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train
of ancient and venerable prejudices and
opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones
become antiquated before they can ossify. All
that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is
profaned, and man is at last compelled to face
with sober senses his real condition of life and
his relations with his kind.” – Karl Marx
His point: Individual freedom, which
forms the basis for capitalism, allows
for innovation and growth.
But it creates problems because the
benefits of capitalism are unevenly
distributed. Industrial development led
to the creation of urban poverty,
which was a largely new phenomenon.
He wrote these
ideas out in Das
Kapital. The first
critical analysis of
Here’s an
abridged version
of the book.
He saw increased competition
between capital and labor.
He predicted increased political
conflict as a result.
Some selected quotes:
“In bourgeois society capital is
independent and has individuality,
while the living person is
dependent and has no
individuality.” – Karl Marx
“Capital is reckless of the health or
length of life of the laborer, unless
under compulsion from society.” – Karl
“Capitalist production, therefore,
develops technology, and the
combining together of various
processes into a social whole, only by
sapping the original sources of all
wealth - the soil and the labourer.” –
Karl Marx
Even Adam Smith had cautionary
things to say about the rise of
“No society can surely be flourishing and
happy, of which the far greater part of the
members are poor and miserable”
“To feel much for others and little for
ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and
exercise our benevolent affections,
constitute the perfection of human nature”
– Adam Smith
Smith was concerned about growing
inequality and did not agree with the idea
that people should ignore the plight of
As we will see in a moment, concern for
growing inequality this led to the
development of socialism and
communism, both based on egalitarian
principles rooted in the French Revolution.
To repeat a point: The classical liberal
focuses primarily on the individual.
This made classical liberalism very different
than the collective ideologies that began to
develop in Europe in the wake of the
French Revolution. These point out a key
difference between ideologies: Some are
based on the individual, some are based on
the collective.
Which raises a good question:
Is society best thought of as being
composed of fully independent
people, or are we all
And a related question:
Can – or should – government be
used as a vehicle for attaining
certain goals?
The conservative tends to see it society as
composed of individuals and that
government should orient itself primarily
to protect the rights of individuals.
The liberal tends to see society as a
collected of interconnected individuals and
that government should be actively used to
improve the lives of those individuals.
Those on the left argue that the
common good is best attained by
deliberately working for it rather
assuming that it will inevitably
follow from self-interested
individual actions.
This should help put into context
the rise of socialism.
The expansion of individual
freedom did allow for tremendous
growth and wealth creation. But at
a cost: greater inequality in society.
The costs imposed on the poor led
to ideological opposition:
A definition:
socialism, social and economic doctrine that calls for
public rather than private ownership or control of
property and natural resources. According to the
socialist view, individuals do not live or work in isolation
but live in cooperation with one another. Furthermore,
everything that people produce is in some sense a
social product, and everyone who contributes to the
production of a good is entitled to a share in it. Society
as a whole, therefore, should own or at least control
property for the benefit of all its members. Encyclopedia Britannica
Socialism is an ideology that takes
a collectivist approach to society. It
developed soon after the French
Revolution and began to be
popularized after the onset of the
Industrial Revolution, which
transformed society, but also great
inequality and urban poverty.
Socialism evolved as a response to capitalism. Early
socialists promoted policies that would redistribute
wealth and reorganize society. Sometimes, but not
always, it would also include proposals to abolish
private property and allow for governmental ownership
of the means of production.
Like many other ideologies, a great many groups
claimed to be socialist and had disagreements with
each other over goals and methods.
The story of socialism in the United
States is similar to that in Europe.
It followed the rise of industry in
the United States and the
increased inequality that resulted
from it.
Agrarian American was more equal
that Industrial America.
These socialist movement were a
response to what were seen as the
excesses of the Gilded Age.
Socialism was more of an urban than a
rural movement. And it focused more on
the needs of the working class, especially
No surprise that the first major socialist
party in the United States was the Socialist
Labor Party. Click here for Wikipedia’s
entry on socialism in the United States.
One of the products of socialism in
the US was the creation of a
variety of utopian communities.
One of the more famous was the
Oneida Community. Texas had
some as well, for example La
Utopian communities in the US
have their own unique histories
apart from the political story we
are following here.
The most extreme form of
socialism was communism, which
was developed by Karl Marx in the
mid 19 Century.
Two definitions of communism:
a : a theory advocating elimination of private property
b : a system in which goods are owned in common and are
available to all as needed
a : a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and
Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics
b : a totalitarian system of government in which a single
authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production
communism, the political and economic doctrine that
aims to replace private property and a profit-based
economy with public ownership and communal control
of at least the major means of production (e.g., mines,
mills, and factories) and the natural resources of a
society. Communism is thus a form of socialism—a
higher and more advanced form, according to its
advocates. Exactly how communism differs from
socialism has long been a matter of debate, but the
distinction rests largely on the communists’ adherence
to the revolutionary socialism of Karl Marx.
Marx saw political conflict as primarily based on class
conflict and developed a historical analysis that argued
that the communist state – where workers owned the
means of production – was the inevitable direction
society was heading.
Marx thought that communist governments were most
likely to emerge in the advanced economies of the west
– like England, France and the United States because
having gone through a period of capitalism they had
developed the “means of production” necessary to
grow. It was a bit of a surprise that they would emerge
in Russia and China that had not developed as capitalist
Definition (s)
1 a : absence of government
b : a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the
absence of governmental authority
c : a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete
freedom without government
2 a : absence or denial of any authority or established
b : absence of order : disorder <not manicured plots
but a wild anarchy of nature — Israel Shenker>
And another definition:
anarchism, cluster of doctrines and
attitudes centred on the belief that
government is both harmful and
unnecessary. Anarchist thought
developed in the West and spread
throughout the world, principally
in the early 20th century.
Anarchism also evolved in the late
19 Century, but instead of
advocating for expansive
government that can provide
goods and services for the general
population, anarchists advocated
for the elimination of government.
Advocates argued that societies of people
are capable of organizing themselves
“without a central coordinator imposing its
own idea of order against the wills of
individuals acting in their own interests.”
Anarchism, at its simplest argues against the
existence of publicly enforced government. The
term can be confusing though because it is often
used negatively to describe the violence that can
sometimes emerge when there is no peacekeeping apparatus in society. Many advocates of
reform were called anarchists by opponents who
argued that their reforms – be they classical
liberals or socialists – would lead to chaos.
Here are some definitions:
Click here for a look at the history
of anarchism in the United States.
Later this semester – when we
cover the development of the
freedom of speech we will look at
the case of Abrams v US, which
involved the speech rights of self
described anarchists.
“A political philosophy supporting the
rights and power of the people in their
struggle against the privileged elite.”
The elite may be connected to the
government or to the private sector.
And another:
“any of various, often
antiestablishment or antiintellectual political movements or
philosophies that offer unorthodox
solutions or policies”
Populism can best be thought of as
an ideological movement the
began in the mid 19th century by
distressed farmers who – among
other things – were increasingly
threatened by the power of
railroads and bankers.
Read this brief essay for more detail: Agrarian
Distress and the Rise of Populism.
Populism was especially powerful
in the United States from the end
of the Civil War to World War II.
It began with the Granger
Movement, then the Farmer’s
Alliance. The People’s Party was
formed in the early 1890s.
Positions taken by populists of that
era – or at least the Farmers’
Alliance - included strong
regulations of both railroads and
banks, inflationary monetary policy
(the use of silver as coinage),
lowered tariffs, a progressive
income tax, and the popular
election of US Senators.
One of the better
known populist
candidates was
William Jennings
Bryan, who was the
candidate for the
presidency for
several elections.
The term populism is used to refer
to almost any movement that
emerges from the grassroots and
reflects a general disenchantment
with elites. Their precise policy
positions can vary depending on
Here are recent examples
George Wallace –
who ran several
times for president
– represented the
interests of the
Southern Populists
who were argued
to be upset that
liberal elites were
forcing changes on
racial relationships
in the South.
Ross Perot’s
candidacy in 1992
and 1996 was fueled
in part by groups
turned off by the
existing parties and
distrustful of
Currently many
argue that the
Tea Party is at
root a populist
Some claim it is
The same
argument is/was
made about the
Occupy Wall
Populists like to scream and raise
their hands in the air.
This might be worth a read: Gore
Vidal: The Virgil of American
Populism is probably less an ideology than
political movement that flares up from
time to time when the general population
sours on the elites that run government
and business in the nation.
Populists can stand for anything that pits
the little guys against the big guy.
Populists are an ongoing feature of
political in the United States
As we will see, it also a feature that
the founding generation did not
think was especially beneficial.
Much of the design of the
American constitutional system –
as we will see soon enough.
A precise definition of
progressivism is difficult to
establish. Here’s one person’s
Contemporary liberalism can be traced
back to the progressive movement, which
was especially active in the period from
1890 – the 1920s. The era has become
known as the Progressive Era.
While the era was argued to be over in the
1920s, the spirit of the movement
continued through the New Deal and the
Great Society, and helped fuel the Civil
Rights Movement.
The movement was a response to the laissez faire
policies common during the Gilded Age as well as the
hardships suffered during the Great Depression of
1890s. The impulses behind it were similar to those
behind both socialism and communism.
It saw government as a necessary means to solve a
variety of social problems, especially those that
resulted from the increased inequalities brought on the
by industrial revolution.
The progressive movement had
many goals, including eliminating
corruption from government and
improving governmental efficiency.
It also sought to expand
participation and strengthen the
political power of the middle
A lot of contemporary conservative
politics is oriented towards
undoing what progressives
established during this time.
The current divide between liberals
and conservatives can be traced to
this dispute over the New Deal.
As opposed to socialism and
communism however, progressives
didn’t push for nationalizing
industry and other institutions, but
rather to regulate them in order to
minimize their ability to
perpetuate inequities and to
restrain the growing political
power of corporations.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries
both the Republican and Democratic
Parties had progressive wings. In 1912, exPresident Teddy Roosevelt formed the
Progressive – or Bull Moose – Party and
took with him many progressive
Republicans. In the early 1930s, many
progressives would join the Democratic
Party as part of the New Deal Coalition.
Progressives were responsible for
many of the regulations and
regulatory agencies established
during this time.
The Federal Reserve
The Interstate Commerce Commission
The Food and Drug Administration
The Federal Trade Commission
Security and Exchange Commission
National Labor Relations Board
Each of these were designed to
allow for the national government
to alleviate some perceived
problem created by unregulated
laissez-faire capitalism.
This would be replaced with
regulatory capitalism.
This movement had a major impact
on the development of politics and
government in the early to mid
20th Century.
While neither nationalism or fascism were
major political forces in the United States,
they did have major impacts on the U.S.
due to their impact on the politics of Italy,
Germany and Japan.
One often hears these terms used in
contemporary debate, so they are worth
knowing. See Fascism and Ideology.
Definition of nationalism:
loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially
: a sense of national consciousness exalting
one nation above all others and placing
primary emphasis on promotion of its
culture and interests as opposed to those
of other nations or supranational groups.
Definitions of fascism:
1 - a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that
of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above
the individual and that stands for a centralized
autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader,
severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible
suppression of opposition.
2 - a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong
autocratic or dictatorial control <early instances of
army fascism and brutality
The term is often used to refer to
political forces that see
authoritarian control as preferable
to a society that respects civil
Both fascism and nationalism grew out of
opposition to the growth of liberal
democracy, the rise of individualism and a
rationalist orientation to government.
Fascism promoted a collectivist viewpoint
of society where people are considered as
parts of national and/or racial groups.
Violence was a central component
of fascism. It was celebrated and
encouraged. And it helped with
Benito Mussolini is
credited – blamed? –
with the
development of
fascism in Italy
between the 1920s
and 1940s and the
creation of the
National Fascist
Party. Adolph Hitler
was an early admirer
and developed a
similar party in
proved to
Again, lots of screaming, this time
with clenched fists.
Fascists movements were
organized around a shared national
identity within each country.
It is argued that one reason that a
strong fascist movement never
developed in the United States is
that it does not have a similar
strong – and simple – identity.
Next Section
Ideology in the United States after
World War 2
In these last few slides I’ll try to
outline the recent history of
ideology in the United States and
clarify – to the degree I can – what
ideological terms means today.
I’ll also try to outline the internal
disputes that exist within each
These two paragraphs from
Wikipedia’s entry on left-right
politics should help describe where
the left and right are currently
aligned in American politics:
1 - “The contemporary Left in the United States is
usually understood as a category including New Deal
liberals, Rawlsian liberals, social democrats and civil
libertarians, and is generally identified with the
Democratic Party. In general, left-wing implies a
commitment to egalitarianism, support for social
policies that favor the working class, and
multiculturalism. The contemporary Left usually defines
itself as promoting government regulation of business,
commerce and industry; protection of fundamental
rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of
religion; and government intervention on behalf of
racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities and the working
As mentioned in a previous set of
slides, liberals tend to focus on
Most liberal positions can be
understood as ways to enhance
equality, or equal protection.
Liberalism also takes a more
collective approach to solving
Meaning that it sees governmental
intervention as a legitimate way to
solve problems
2 – “The contemporary Right in the United States is
usually understood as a category including social
conservatives, Christian conservatives and free market
liberals, and is generally identified with the Republican
Party. In general, right-wing implies a commitment to
conservative Christian values, support for a free-market
system, and "traditional family values". The
contemporary Right usually defines itself as promoting
deregulation of banking, commerce, and industry.”
Conservatism tends to prioritize liberty
over equality.
Efforts to promote equality – like providing
public education or health care –
compromise individualism by imposing
public solutions on the general population
and using tax payer dollars to fund it.
Conservatives are more likely to
support efforts by the private
sector or voluntary organizations
like churches to solve public
And if they cannot solve the
problems, then perhaps they
cannot be solved.
We’ve already discussed the
transformation of the term liberal.
Classical liberalism has much in common
with certain variant of contemporary
conservatism – or libertarianism.
Contemporary liberalism is better seen as
an outgrowth of progressivism, or social
Blog Posts
While it still embraces market economies, it
argues that market freedoms ought to be
balanced against the needs of the community.
Economic and social issues like poverty, health
care and education are legitimate subjects
government can deal with.
Liberals also support the expansion of civil and
political rights and the equal protection of the
Modern liberalism generally sees
government as a force that can be used
successfully to address social ills, often
those created by the private sector:
pollution for example.
Though we will be using the term
“liberalism” its probably best to think of
what follows in terms of “progressivism.”
This was the assumption that
formed the basis for the
progressive movement, the New
Deal and the Great Society.
I mentioned before that the political divisions
that evolved during the New Deal continue to
define the nature of ideological dispute today.
Few conservative voices existed during that
period. Liberalism became dominant with the
election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and
would continue to be so through the late 1970s,
though it began to fragment considerably with
the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.
As we will note soon enough, the current
Democratic Party tends to be liberal and
the current Republican Party tends to be
conservative. Though there are variations
within each. We’ll try to make sense of this
over the course of the semester.
The positions of the parties shift however
and its worth understanding the nature of
these shifts.
Theodore Roosevelt became a
leader of the Progressive
movement. He has worked for
civil service reform and against
police corruption before
becoming president.
As president he aggressively
sought to break apart
monopolies and established
regulatory agencies. He also
sought to increase American
influence overseas.
Franklin Roosevelt was elected
president in 1932 with the
promise to use aggressive
government policies – the New
Deal - to deal with the
problems related to the Great
This included the imposition of
regulations to prevent future
depressions as well policies
designed to assist those hurt
by the economic collapse.
John Maynard Keynes was
a British economist who
argued that aggressive
governmental intervention
could help pick the
economy up out of the
Great Depression.
His theories are still
promoted as ways to jump
start the economy when it
is recession. This is
referred to as Keynesian
This argument challenged the
prevailing idea that the ordinary
operations of the free market
would allow the economy to pick
This was also referred to as
classical economics.
Harry Truman
followed FDR
into the White
House and began
to use his
influence to fight
Lyndon Johnson had the
legislative influence to
muscle civil rights
legislation through
Congress as well as Great
Society programs that
attempted to use
governmental programs
to deal effectively with
Johnson’s presidency proved to be the high
watermark of liberalism in the United
States – the idea that governmental
programs – notably national programs
could address social and economic
But a backlash was underway which would
lead to the development of the
conservative movement.
We are going to skip over a lot of the
contemporary history of liberalism, but
here’s a source to dig into a bot more
on your own.
Modern Liberalism in the United
conservatism, political doctrine that emphasizes the
value of traditional institutions and practices.
Conservatism is a preference for the historically
inherited rather than the abstract and ideal. This
preference has traditionally rested on an organic
conception of society—that is, on the belief that
society is not merely a loose collection of individuals
but a living organism comprising closely connected,
interdependent members. Conservatives thus favor
institutions and practices that have evolved gradually
and are manifestations of continuity and stability.
Some blog tags:
Even during the New Deal, a
conservative coalition in
Congress existed that
attempted – unsuccessfully
– to stop New Deal
programs. Their leader was
Ohio Senator Robert Taft.
These folks were also
referred to as the Old Right.
Liberalism/progressivism would be the
dominant ideology for several decades following
the onset of the Great Depression. If you need a
specific year for when this period ended, try
1980 and the election of Ronald Reagan who
represented the conservative wing of the
Republican Party.
Conservatism was considered to be a non-factor
until then, but forces would begin to develop
that would seek to change that.
A small handful of writers started articulating
ideas that would become the basis for the rise
of the conservative movement beginning in the
1960s and is still powerful today.
As opposed to liberalism – which rested on the
idea that government should be an active force
in ensuring equity in society – conservatism
rested on at least two general ideas.
1 – That policies that promote equity by
redistributing benefits and resources in society
violate individual freedom – which they
consider to be a superior value.
2 – Traditional social relationship – especially
those based on local communities, religion and
family – have merit, and they should not be
interfered with by governmental policies.
In 1953, Russell Kirk wrote
the Conservative Mind
which consolidated
conservative principles.
Many at odds with the
principles that guided the
progressive movement –
notably the idea that
societies could be
transformed based on
newly developed theories.
“In a revolutionary epoch, sometimes
men taste every novelty, sicken of
them all, and return to ancient
principles so long disused that they
seem refreshingly hearty when they
are rediscovered.”
Click here for lots of Kirk quotes.
He was also a critic of libertarianism
“Libertarians (like anarchists and Marxists)
generally believe that human nature is good,
though damaged by certain social institutions.
Conservatives, on the contrary, hold that "in
Adam's fall we sinned all": human nature,
though compounded of both good and evil, is
irremediably flawed; so the perfection of
society is impossible, all human beings being
Along with William Buckley,
Kirk founded the National
Review, a magazine that
further helped develop and
promote conservative
Soon enough candidates
began running for office
based on those ideas. These
folks were respond to the
New Right.
This might be his most famous quote:
“A Conservative is a fellow who is
standing athwart history yelling
This has led to the accusation that
conservatism is less about ideology
and simply a reactionary movement
that simply opposes reform and wishes
to return to a previous political state
where they enjoyed more power.
The movement began to pick up steam
in the early 1960s.
The 1964 Republican Convention pit
moderate – establishment, even liberal
– Republicans against an increasingly
strong conservative sector. The later
was able to ensure its candidate
became the party’s nominee.
Here’s background on “movement
conservatism.” This refers to the
ideological group that attempted
to first control the Republican
Party and then the national
government in order to further its
For more info click on Conservatism in the United States.
Barry Goldwater would
also lead the conservative
coalition, and would be
the Republican nominee
for the presidency in 1964
– he was defeated
handily, but set the stage
for the election of Ronald
Reagan in 1980.
Goldwater opposed the welfare state,
labor unions and the Civil Rights Act of
He would later also opposed some of
the positions of the religious right –
like abortion, gay rights and the role of
religion in the public sector – so he
would later become more identified as
a libertarian than a conservative.
A couple images from the time
We will discuss this point further later
in class – but the current ideological
divisions that exist between the two
major parties can be traced to this
period of time.
Each major party went through a
process where the ideologues in each
forced other out of power, or event
out of the party.
Ronald Reagan,
who nominated
Goldwater at the
1964 Republican
Convention began
to implement
He was limited in doing so because
conservatives did not control the House of
Note that conservatives did not consider
Republicans like Richard Nixon as being
conservative. In many ways Nixon expanded a
number of liberal initiatives when he was
president. These included the creation of the
Environmental Protection Agency and proposing
a minimum salary rather than welfare.
In 1994 Newt Gingrich
was responsible for
developing the
electoral strategy that
allowed Republicans to
control the House of
Representatives for the
first time in 40 years.
It involved running a
national election with a
large number of
Republican candidates
for the House
committed to a series
of legislative proposals
collectively known as
the Contract with
The contract featured a number of
substantive and procedural
components designed to reduce the
size and scope of the national
Click here for a survey from the
Heritage Foundation.
Substantive Proposals
Procedural Changes
• FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply
equally to the Congress;
• SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a
comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
• THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff
by one-third;
• FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs;
• FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
• SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public;
• SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
• EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by
implementing zero base-line budgeting.
Conservatism Today
There are a great many subgroups
within the conservative movement.
Conservatives push a variety of issues, but
not everyone pushes the same issue with
the same degree of severity. There can also
be conflict between these different groups.
They don’t all agree on all the issues that
fall under the label “conservative.”
One way to get a handle on the
internal conflicts is to look through the
American Conservative.
You’ll see these terms used a lot.
Lets very quickly look through the
following terms:
Fiscal Conservatives
Social Conservatives
Fiscal Conservatism
This ideology looks primarily at the level of
government spending and seeks to
maintain balanced budgets. Generally fiscal
conservatives seek to balance budgets by
reducing or eliminating governmental
programs. They generally support free
markets and oppose many regulations on
business which they consider unnecessary.
Theoconservatism, or Social Conservatism
This ideology focuses on what it sees as
traditional values, primarily the central role
the traditional family, established Christian
churches and local governments play in the
governing system. Recent focus has been
on the teaching of evolution, abortion,
birth control, same sex marriage, and the
relationship between the church and state.
This was a movement developed by many
ex-liberals who were disillusioned with the
promise of liberalism. While this ideology
takes positions on a variety of issues, it is
most closely identified with muscular,
forceful foreign policy, and a willingness to
use American military power to pursue
American interests.
“Paleo” means “old” so this movement can be
understood as an attempt to revive an older version of
conservatism that dominated politics prior to the New
Deal, and helped prevent the United States from
joining the League of Nations. It is distinct from other
versions of conservatism in its return to a more
isolationist viewpoints. It is far more anti-immigrant
than other types of conservatism. They are less likely to
support military intervention than other conservatives.
You will sometimes also hear this term
used to describe, usually in a negative
sense, some conservatives – paleos
especially. Generally this describes a
person who is opposed to recent political
changes and would like to return to a
previous political regime.
Its important to keep in mind that while
these groups can find common ground
when it is necessary to ward off liberalism,
they fight amongst themselves for what
conservatism stands for and for what the
goals of the movement ought to be.
Sometimes an group can find common
ground with liberal groups though – which
can make the political environment
A special look at libertarianism
Blog Posts:
Libertarians are often considered
to be part of the conservative
movement, but they have a distinct
identity that sometimes puts them
at odds with conservatism.
Here are basic definitions of
“ a set of related political
philosophies that uphold liberty as the
highest political end. This includes
emphasis on the primacy of individual
liberty, political freedom, and voluntary
“Libertarianism is the view that each person has the right to
live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the
equal rights of others. Libertarians defend each person's right
to life, liberty, and property-rights that people have naturally,
before governments are created. In the libertarian view, all
human relationships should be voluntary; the only actions
that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the
initiation of force against those who have not themselves
used force-actions like murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and
fraud.” –
Though libertarians disagree about
what governments should do,
many argue for something called
the Minimal State – also known as
the night-watchman state “ with
powers limited to those necessary
to protect citizens against violence,
theft, and fraud.”
Leading libertarian theorists include:
Friedrich Hayek
Ludwig von Mises
Robert Nozick
What do Libertarians believe?
Are you a Llibertarian?
There’s a way you can find out. An
enterprising libertarian developed the
world’s smallest political quiz (take it here)
which asks people their opinion on
whether government should have a role to
play in economic and personal issues. The
results show where someone belongs on
The Nolan Chart.
Here’s the chart:
It suggests that if you ask people a
handful of questions on personal and
economic freedoms you can determine
whether they are Libertarian, Liberal,
Conservative, Statist or Centrist.
What do these mean according to the
Centrists prefer a "middle ground" regarding
government control of the economy and personal
behavior. Depending on the issue, they sometimes
favor government intervention and sometimes
support individual freedom of choice. Centrists pride
themselves on keeping an open mind, tend to oppose
"political extremes," and emphasize what they
describe as "practical" solutions to problems.
Liberals usually embrace freedom of choice in
personal matters, but tend to support significant
government control of the economy. They generally
support a government-funded "safety net" to help the
disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of
business. Liberals tend to favor environmental
regulations, defend civil liberties and free expression,
support government action to promote equality, and
tolerate diverse lifestyles.
Libertarians support maximum liberty in both
personal and economic matters. They advocate a
much smaller government; one that is limited to
protecting individuals from coercion and violence.
Libertarians tend to embrace individual responsibility,
oppose government bureaucracy and taxes, promote
private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the
free market, and defend civil liberties.
Conservatives tend to favor economic freedom, but
frequently support laws to restrict personal behavior
that violates "traditional values." They oppose
excessive government control of business, while
endorsing government action to defend morality and
the traditional family structure. Conservatives usually
support a strong military, oppose bureaucracy and
high taxes, favor a free-market economy, and endorse
strong law enforcement.
Statists want government to have a great deal of
power over the economy and individual behavior.
They frequently doubt whether economic liberty and
individual freedom are practical options in today's
world. Statists tend to distrust the free market,
support high taxes and centralized planning of the
economy, oppose diverse lifestyles, and question the
importance of civil liberties.
Here’s one person’s assessment of
recent and historical personalities and
where they might fit on the chart.
This might be a helpful quote:
“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.”
Wrap Up
This is plenty to chew on.
But let’s walk out with a few random
graphs regarding ideology in the
general population. Some of these are
for entertainment purposes only