Capitalism and the American Political Ideal

By Edward S. Greenberg | Go to book overview

2. The Rise of "Big Government"
in the United States:
Competing Explanations

In Chapter 1, I attempted to highlight some of the most puzzling aspects of our political life and to raise for consideration an issue that is troubling many Americans, namely the undeniable contrast between the present reality of government in the United States and the traditional American ideal of limited government. How does one account for the emergence of a government whose size, reach, penetration, and impact exceed the wildest imaginings of the founders of the American Republic? I believe that there is an explanation, one that is theoretically and logically consistent and empirically verifiable, and in the next chapter I shall begin to sketch its outlines. Before doing so, however, I want to present, in as fair a manner as possible, the most popular and influential alternative explanations for the rise, development, and ongoing operations of modern government in the United States. In the pages that follow, I will present the views of three schools of thought that are familiar to most Americans: free-market conservatism, most commonly identified with thinkers like Milton Friedman; reform liberalism, synonymous with the liberal presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson; and neo-conservatism, currently in vogue in Washington and in American intellectual circles and most closely identified with the work of Irving Kristol and his colleagues. I will discuss each school's conception of the proper role of government, its description of the current status of government in the United States, and most importantly, its explanation for why a gap has developed between ideal and reality.

-14-

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