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4.1 American Attitudes about Government and Politics

7 min readfebruary 9, 2023

I

Isabela Padilha Vilela

VladimirGenkovski

VladimirGenkovski


AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

240 resources
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Individualism

Individualism is a central aspect of American culture and has had a significant impact on the relationship between citizens and the federal government, as well as the relationships that citizens have with each other. There are two main interpretations of individualism in the United States: classical individualism and modern individualism.
Classical individualism, also known as republican individualism, emphasizes the importance of individual freedoms and autonomy but also places an emphasis on civic duties and responsibilities to the community. This interpretation of individualism underpins the idea of limited government and the belief that the role of the federal government is to protect individual freedoms and liberties. This interpretation of individualism has been used to support the idea of small government and limited regulation, as well as the importance of individual responsibility and the role of private charity in addressing social problems.
Modern individualism, also known as expressive individualism, emphasizes the importance of individual self-expression and personal fulfillment and places less emphasis on civic duties and responsibilities. This interpretation of individualism has been used to support the idea of individual choice and the importance of protecting individual rights and liberties, even if those rights and liberties conflict with the rights and liberties of others. This interpretation of individualism has been used to support the idea of expanding the role of the federal government to ensure equal opportunity and protection for all citizens.
These different interpretations of individualism have led to conflicting views on the role of the federal government in American society, as well as conflicting views on the relationship between citizens and the federal government. On one hand, those who emphasize classical individualism tend to view the role of the federal government as limited and focused on protecting individual liberties, while those who emphasize modern individualism tend to view the role of the federal government as more expansive, and focused on ensuring equal opportunity and protection for all citizens.
These conflicting views on individualism have also influenced the relationships that citizens have with each other. For example, those who emphasize classical individualism tend to view the responsibility for addressing social problems as a personal one and place less emphasis on the role of government in addressing these problems. Those who emphasize modern individualism tend to view the role of government as more important in addressing social problems and ensuring equal opportunity and protection for all citizens.

Equality of Opportunity

Formal equality of opportunity holds that all citizens should have equal access to the same opportunities, regardless of their background or social circumstances. This interpretation of equality of opportunity emphasizes individual responsibility and the importance of merit-based systems, such as education and the job market. Those who emphasize formal equality of opportunity believe that the federal government should not play a role in addressing inequality, as this would interfere with the natural workings of the marketplace.
Substantive equality of opportunity holds that equal outcomes are just as important as equal access to opportunities. This interpretation of equality of opportunity emphasizes the role of the federal government in addressing systemic inequalities, such as poverty, discrimination, and inadequate access to education and healthcare. Those who emphasize substantive equality of opportunity believe that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that all citizens have the resources and support necessary to succeed, regardless of their background or social circumstances.
These different interpretations of equality of opportunity have led to conflicting views on the role of the federal government in American society and the responsibilities of citizens to address social problems. On one hand, those who emphasize formal equality of opportunity tend to view the role of the federal government as limited and focused on protecting individual liberties, while those who emphasize substantive equality of opportunity tend to view the role of the federal government as more expansive, and focused on ensuring equal outcomes and equal protection for all citizens.
These conflicting views on equality of opportunity have also influenced the relationships that citizens have with each other. For example, those who emphasize formal equality of opportunity tend to view the responsibility for addressing social problems as a personal one and place less emphasis on the role of government in addressing these problems. Those who emphasize substantive equality of opportunity tend to view the role of government as more important in addressing social problems and ensuring equal outcomes and protection for all citizens.

Free Enterprise

On one hand, those who advocate for a strong interpretation of free enterprise often view government regulations as barriers to economic growth and prosperity. They may support policies that reduce government intervention in the marketplace, believing that this will allow businesses to thrive and create more jobs. This perspective may lead to a belief in limited government and a mistrust of government intervention in the economy.
On the other hand, those who advocate for a more limited interpretation of free enterprise may believe that government regulations are necessary to protect consumers, workers, and the environment. They may support policies that ensure fair competition and protect the public interest. This perspective may lead to a belief in a larger role for government in the economy and support for policies that address income inequality and the concentration of wealth.
These differing interpretations of free enterprise can result in political polarization, with some citizens seeing government regulations as necessary to protect the public interest and others viewing them as barriers to economic growth and prosperity. They can also impact the relationship between citizens and the federal government, with some citizens feeling that their economic interests are not being represented and others feeling that the government is overstepping its bounds.
In addition, these differing interpretations of free enterprise can also impact the relationships between citizens themselves. For example, those who strongly support free enterprise may view those who advocate for greater government intervention as advocating for a socialist or even communist system. Those who support a limited interpretation of free enterprise may view those who advocate for limited government intervention as selfish and lacking concern for the common good. These perceptions can contribute to political polarization and a breakdown in trust and cooperation between citizens.

Rule of Law

For some citizens, the rule of law means that all individuals and institutions, including the government, are subject to the same laws and that no one is above the law. This perspective may lead to a strong commitment to legal and constitutional norms, as well as support for an independent judiciary and other checks on government power. These citizens may view the rule of law as a cornerstone of democracy and a bulwark against tyranny and arbitrary rule.
For others, the rule of law may be interpreted more narrowly, with a focus on protecting property rights and ensuring a predictable and stable business environment. This perspective may lead to support for limited government intervention in the economy and a distrust of regulation and other government policies that may be seen as burdensome or intrusive.
These differing interpretations of the rule of law can impact the relationship between citizens and the federal government in several ways. For example, some citizens may view the government as intrusive and overreaching when it enacts laws and regulations that they see as violating the rule of law. Others may view the government as not doing enough to ensure the rule of law, particularly when it comes to issues like police misconduct, corruption, and political corruption.
In addition, these differing interpretations of the rule of law can also impact the relationships between citizens themselves. For example, those who view the rule of law as a cornerstone of democracy may view those who prioritize property rights and economic freedom as placing corporate interests above the public interest. Those who prioritize economic freedom may view those who prioritize the rule of law as impeding economic growth and prosperity. These differing perspectives can contribute to political polarization and a breakdown in trust and cooperation between citizens.

Limited Government

For some citizens, limited government means that the role of the federal government should be limited to those functions specifically delegated to it by the Constitution and that the federal government should not intrude into the lives of individuals or businesses. This perspective may lead to support for a smaller government that provides fewer services and regulates the economy less.
For others, limited government may be interpreted as a means of protecting individual rights and liberties, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press, as well as other civil rights. This perspective may lead to support for a more active role for the federal government in protecting individual rights, promoting social justice, and addressing societal problems.
These differing interpretations of limited government can impact the relationship between citizens and the federal government in several ways. For example, some citizens may view the federal government as intrusive and overreaching when it enacts laws and regulations that they see as violating the principles of limited government. Others may view the federal government as not doing enough to address societal problems, particularly in areas like healthcare, education, and income inequality.
In addition, these differing interpretations of limited government can also impact the relationships between citizens themselves. For example, those who view limited government as a means of protecting individual rights and liberties may view those who prioritize smaller government and less regulation as placing corporate interests above the public interest. Those who prioritize smaller government and less regulation may view those who prioritize individual rights and liberties as impeding economic growth and prosperity. These differing perspectives can contribute to political polarization and a breakdown in trust and cooperation between citizens.

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