Opinion About Big Government
LINDA L.M. BENNETT
STEPHEN EARL BENNETT
Many Americans today are confused when the word leviathan is used in connection with government. Dictionaries state that it refers to something of "enormous size and power" that harks back to the "sea monster" described in the Bible. Only people who are familiar with the philosophical tome Leviathan, originally published in 1651 by Englishman Thomas Hobbes ( 1991), are likely to connect the term to notions of centralized governmental power. Yet this is the basis for our chapter's title. Its theme is straightforward: The central government in the United States has grown tremendously, and citizens are still "coming to terms" with that growth (also see Bennett and Bennett 1990).
What do Americans think about government? What do they believe government should do or not do? These are fundamental questions that tap the roots of American political culture. How a democratic society is oriented toward its national government guides the legitimate range of that government's activities. Ultimately, those activities can determine how democratic the society will remain. We believe that as our national government has grown in the complexity of its organization, the number of people it employs, the range of responsibilities it has absorbed, the breadth of activities it seeks to regulate, and the revenues it extracts from taxpayers to spend for a broad panoply of programs, there has been an accompanying shift in American attitudes toward government. Even though politicians still draw appreciative applause by assailing "wasteful spending," "dishonest politicians," and "intrusive regulations," there is growing acceptance of government's many roles in everyday life. People's orientations toward government are multidimensional and reflect more than simply an abhorrence of "bigness." Furthermore, a significant part of the change in political culture is evident in the varying orientations toward government held by individuals of different age groupings (or cohorts), beginning with those who were young adults during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and ending with today's young adults, some-