Equality and Freedom
It is common for people to defy and actively deny allegiance to any authority that subdues their freewill. However, many across the globe gladly submit to the coercive supremacies of their political régimes. They have accepted laws that state what side of the road they need to drive on, the number of spouses they need to have, what forms the basics that constitute a contract, how they need to dispose of their waste, and the taxes they need to pay to the government to form such coercive laws. In the 20th century, people alluded to a government based on territorial boundaries where a state was defined as legitimate agency authorized to use force to control human behavior within specified geographical boundaries. After many years of armed conflict, international relations and diplomatic ties were established with the view of coming up with national sovereignty (Arat, 2008).
State sovereignty can be defined as the political entity’s externally recognized right to exercise final authority over their affairs without interference from other countries (Sargent, 2009). Historically, governments have been proactive towards maintaining order by protecting property and preserving life while providing public goods. However, most governments in the modern era are faced with the challenge of promoting equality and guaranteeing freedoms of their citizenry. When governments focus on their duties to the people and fully embrace specific political ideologies and attitudes, they can deliver better on equality and freedom of their citizenry.
This is the primary role of any government where they apply the rule of law in preserving life and protecting property (Arat, 2008). Without an authority figure maintaining law and order, humans invariably tend to resort to barbarism and outright lawlessness. Without laws to govern the people, humans tend to resort to a predatory lifestyle characterized by stealing and killing for selfish gains. It is important to have a single sovereign power that possesses authority that can safeguard the safety of everyone in the society. A state of lawlessness can be catastrophic for any nation as seen across many countries including Somalia in 1992, Haiti in 1994, and Bosnia in 1995. The conception of unproductive and fearful life in a state characterized by anarchy is what formed the basis for establishing a government that guaranteed individual survival.
Once the governments have ensured that they have established the basic law and order, they pursue other objectives key among them provision of public goods. These are goods and services that benefit all citizenry equally but are not voluntarily produced by individuals (Kevin Harrison, 2003). Governments tax people to provide public goods including sanitation facilities, education, infrastructure and parks. However, there have been major uprisings aimed at forcing governments to delegate some of these roles to the private sector. The targeted public goods include managing railroads, the operation of mines, and generation of electricity. There are disagreements on how far the government can go in utilizing its power to tax its citizenry in a bid to provide public goods and services.
Historically, the promotion of freedoms and equality was not a primary objective of government. It gained prominence after the onset of industrialization and urbanization. Most governments were confronted with the reality of poverty among the citizens during the industrialization era. By alluding to the concepts of a welfare state, they could provide their citizens with some guaranteed income, education, and medical care. The promotion of equality and freedom is by far the most controversial role of government because many citizens oppose the taxation to promote economic and social equality on the principle that is not just. The central issue these individuals have is the redistribution of income in a manner that bears similarity with charity as wealth is taken from the rich and given to the poor by the governement (Balzer, 2010). States are mandated to promote social equality and freedoms through policies, for instance, regulating social behavior in situations that discourage equality and freedoms like those involving homosexuals.
The citizens have varying opinions on how they need their governments to maintain order, provide them with public goods, and promote equality and freedom. To comprehend the political process and role that government plays in meeting their objectives, one must be able to understand the ideologies and attitudes that governments subscribe to. However, understanding political ideologies and discourses first calls for definitions of equality and freedom so as to gain a proper comprehension of how governments guarantee them.
The term freedom is defined as the absence of any constraints on behavior: individuals have the free will to do something without being curtailed (Balzer, 2010). It is synonymous to liberty and often takes two connotations, which are ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom of ’. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is credited with being among the originators of this principle where he described fundamental freedoms just before America entered World War II. When the term ‘freedom of’ is used, it shows the absence of any constraint on behavior thereby meaning that one has the freedom to indulge in an activity. ‘Freedom from’ symbolizes the fight against any form of exploitation and subjugation. The civil rights movement in the U.S. has been particularly active in fighting for most of the freedom that is currently enjoyed by Americans (Kevin Harrison, 2003).
There are diverse categories of equality with each category having a particular cause that they advocate for in the society. An example is political equality which allows each citizen to have only one vote without being discriminated by gender or race. Political equality ensures that there is equality in political decision making with all votes being counted equally regardless of the social and economic background of the voters. The other category of equality is social equality where there should be equality in wealth distribution, education, and social status in society (Nuttall, 2008). To achieve social equality, a government has to provide equal opportunities for all citizens and ensure that there are equal outcomes. When there is equality of opportunity, everyone has the same chance of succeeding in life.
True equality is characterized by equality of outcome where the government designs policies that redistribute status and wealth, so that social and economic equality is achieved. Equality of outcome has led to affirmative action programs that promote hiring from minority groups, increase equal funding for men’s and women’s sports colleges, and led to the improvement of federal laws that require employers to pay their employees equally regardless of gender. Equality of outcome can be linked to those rights that are supported by the government where every citizen is entitled to certain benefits that include medical care, income, housing, and employment.
Many people believe that freedom and equality are complementary and do not differ in values. However, there are differences between the two. For example, in the 1960s, Congress enacted the Equal Pay Act that mandated employers to emolument both men, and women the equivalent rate for equal work (Sargent, 2009). Essentially, it means that these companies were forced to pay women more than thereby violating their freedom of choice. Conflict often arises between liberty and equality when government uses its machinery to promote equality at the expense of freedom (Kevin Harrison, 2003). In the Soviet Union, the government guaranteed its citizenry proper medical care, inexpensive housing, and social services that ensured equality for all. It is imperative to note that the conflict between freedom and equality has a huge significance in the political ideologies that structure political thoughts and policies.
Different people hold diverse opinions on the merits of government policies with most basing their views on their self-interests. For instance, most senior citizens oppose increasing their personal contributions towards Medicare, which is a government program that covers the medical costs incurred by the elderly, preferring that all citizens pay for their cover (Kevin Harrison, 2003). Policies are often judged based on individual values and beliefs that often produce contradictory opinions on policies by government. These views towards public policy form political ideology that can be defined as a consistent set of beliefs and values about the proper scope and purpose of government. The central issue that is often addressed by political ideologies is the extent to which government can intervene when maintaining order, providing public goods, and promoting equality. Scholars, politicians, and citizens have different alternatives to the approach of political ideologies. Analysis of their positions can be done by giving reference to philosophies that define the scope of government and its permissible activities. The political beliefs prevalent in most countries around the globe are totalitarianism, socialism, capitalism, libertarianism, conservatism, anarchism, fascism, and nationalism.
Totalitarianism is a political theory that advocates for unlimited power by the government so as to enable it to control all the sectors of the society that include education, arts, sports, religion, labor, and businesses (Sargent, 2009). The objective of a totalitarian government is to produce a perfect society where a master is served for the common interest of the community. In such a government freedoms are thoroughly curtailed with the false hope of gaining equality as there will always be a consistent gap between the poor who are servants and the rich who are the masters being served. Totalitarian governments do not give their citizens an opportunity to express themselves and their political will is subdued so that they uphold the rule of their master (Sargent, 2009).
Most totalitarian governments divide their people into a class system where individuals are grouped depending on their economic state and given jobs that they need to perform to support the government. The modern era is against totalitarianism, and not many nations profess it even though their form of governments might be alluding to that ideology. Totalitarianism has never reached its full potential in any society but real historical examples of societies that promoted the political ideology are Germany during the reign of Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.
Socialism mainly focuses on the role of government in the economy where it is a form of rule that mandates the central government to play an influential role in regulating the private sector and directing the economy. It is an economic policy that is based on the Marxist theory where the scope of government extends to the control and ownership of the core industries that produce essential goods and services noteworthy examples being corporations in communications, transportation, mining, power, and manufacturing (Kevin Harrison, 2003). Even though socialism favors the strong role of government in the regulation of the economy, it allows some room for private ownership of productive capacities as opposed to communism. Many people tend to equate socialism with communism that was widely practiced in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
However, the two ideologies are dissimilar in that communism tends towards totalitarianism where it controls not only the economic life of its citizens but also their social and political life through a one party organization that is dominant. Most socialist countries allow their citizens to have the fundamental freedoms of life through the practice of democratic socialism that allows for freedom of speech and religion. The citizens are authorized to make decisions on the extent to which government can influence their lives by engaging in free elections that involve competitive political parties. Socialism encourages the fundamental freedoms of humanity and through proper policy from a democratic government promotes equality of its citizens.
Capitalism is a political ideology that mainly focuses on the role of government in the economy. It is a system of government that favors the operation of privately owned businesses without any government regulation. Most economists have argued out that this is the best form of government to strive for. Milton Friedman states that for people to experience liberal politics, the government should promote free enterprise (Arat, 2008). An example of a capitalist country is the United States that operates a few public enterprises despite the enormous budget the country has. Railroads, television stations, and airlines are owned privately in that country while such businesses are often owned by the government in other nations.
However, the capitalist system can never be perfect because it is the role of the government to oversee the activities of private entities especially when such activities have an effect on the economy. The government has to extend its authority into the economic sphere by regulating private businesses and directing the growth of the economy. Freedoms are allowed extensively within the capitalist structure and institutions have been put in place to increase equality that is a perennial issue in capitalism since those with the resources always develop more in such a political system as opposed to those that lack the prerequisite investment (Arat, 2008). Capitalistic approach has led to the rise of both the libertinism and conservatism political ideologies that embrace capitalist ideology but differ on the level of government intervention that is desirable or necessary in any economy.
Libertarianism is a political ideology that opposes any government action in the private sector unless that action is necessary to protect property and life. Libertarians are individuals who passionately advocate for minimal government action in businesses and recognize the necessity for the government to be limited as much as possible in interfering with markets (Kevin Harrison, 2003). Libertarians acknowledge the need for traffic laws as they ensure people drive safely and in an orderly fashion to get to their destinations of choice. However, they oppose the restriction by the government on individuals like for instance they are opposed to action laws that outlaw marijuana or those that set the minimum drinking age.
Libertarians are against social programs that are meant to provide shelter, clothing, and food stating that these are activities that lie outside the scope of government. The oppose any efforts by the government to own basic industries and support an economic policy referred to as the laissez-faire that simply means let people do as they please, which is an economic doctrine that is against any form of government interventions in business (Sargent, 2009). Libertarianism supports freedoms of the citizenry where people are free to indulge in any activity they want to provide that activity does not lead to the death of someone else or a destruction of property. However, it does not promote equality as it does not support policies meant to provide social amenities that assist the needy in society or government initiatives that promote equality (Arat, 2008).
Conservatism is a political ideology that has themes like tradition, human imperfection, authority, and organic society where it is believed that accumulated wisdom from the past should be preserved for future generations (Kevin Harrison, 2003). The conservatives believe in pragmatism and note that human nature is not adequate to perpetuate growth and development, and there needs to be an authority in the form of government that provides the basis for social cohesion. Conservatives believe that there needs to be a preservation of wealth, and private business should be encouraged by the government by not interfering with their activities. However, when those actions contravene the law or go against commonly ascribed traditions, then the government should get involved to curtail that. For instance, conservatives support the setting up of a minimum drinking age and the ban on drugs that have traditionally been thought to be harmful to the society. Freedoms of individuals are encouraged within conservatism but can be curtailed when the traditional values ascribed to are violated. Equality, on the other hand, is not supported by the ideology like for instance there can be no equality of outcome and opportunity stating that the nature of everyone differs and such equality can never be achieved unless the government is tyrannical and forces its citizens to assist the less fortunate in society (Sargent, 2009).
Anarchism is a political ideology that opposes the formation of any government where the ideology values the need for everyone to have the freedom to do as they please without any restrictions. Anarchism holds that all states are evil simply because the repository of sovereignty that is compulsory and coercive by any authority is a grave offense against the principles of equality and freedom and the core objective of anarchism is to attain unrestricted personal autonomy (Kevin Harrison, 2003). A pure anarchist objects to any regulation that restricts their personal liberty, for instance, they would oppose traffic laws that force them to drive on one side of the road. Primarily, anarchism pursues the emancipation from oppressive structures of control that include the state, religion, and other schemes that purport to control individual action. They instead tend to advocate for a self-managed classless society that exists where there are no geographical borders, rulers, and bosses (Kevin Harrison, 2003).
Everyone is expected to take collective responsibility for themselves and the environment thereby suggesting that anarchists have considerable faith in the natural order and spontaneous social harmony underpinned on very optimistic assumptions about the nature of human beings. However, the theory has never been successful in nations that do not have legitimate governments. An example is Somalia where people kill each other and forcefully acquire their properties. There can never be equality in anarchism as the strong will always have more and the weak will lack, but all will have the freedom to do as they please.
Fascism is a political ideology that focuses on organically unifying the national community to be embodied in a belief that they can be strong when they are unified. The fascist ideology does value individual identity on condition that it is absorbed into a social group or the community. The fascist ideal focuses on ensuring that everyone becomes heroes that are motivated by honor, duty, and self-sacrifice as they dedicate their lives to the glory of the nation and to give unquestionable obedience to their leaders (Kevin Harrison, 2003). Values such as equality, freedom, rationalism, and progress are not accorded the utmost consideration in fascism rather they are overturned in a bid to foster struggle, leadership, power, war, and heroism. Fascism is an oppressive political ideology that urges those who subscribe to it to give up their freedom and be completely submissive, to give up democracy for dictatorship by a supreme leader, and for them to progress then, they have to engage regularly in struggles and wars thereby only leading to destruction rather than the creation of wealth (Kevin Harrison, 2003).
There is a challenge that is posed by democracy as the government has to make the difficult choice of proper policies that are efficient in achieving its goals towards guaranteeing freedoms and equality to its citizens. When governments strive to achieve their three primary purposes, which are maintaining order, promoting freedoms and equality, and providing public goods, they tend to infringe on fundamental individual freedom rights. However, the extent to which the government can infringe on such freedoms depends on the value it accords to achieving order and equality within its geographical boundaries. Political ideologies are, therefore, utilized to assist in defining the extent that government can get to when advocating for more freedom and equality. Totalitarianism mandates the government intervention in every aspect of the society while anarchism rejects the role of government and deems it evil. Socialism advocates for government ownership of major industries and preserves civil liberties, while capitalism, promotes free enterprise. The defense of essential freedoms and the advancement of equality rights within a state largely depend on the political ideology and attitude that the country ascribes to.
Arat, Z. F. (2008). Human Rights Ideology and Dimensions of Power: A Radical Approach to the State, Property, and Discrimination. Human Rights Quarterly, 906-932.
Balzer, W. (2010). Freedom and Equality in the Comparison. Retrieved March 26, 2016, from http://www.bu.edu/wcp//Papers/Poli/PoliBalz.htm
Kevin Harrison, T. B. (2003). Understanding Political ideas and Movements. New York,NY: Manchester University Press.
Nuttall, J. (2008). Equality and freedom: The single, the multiple and the synthesis in Labour Party thought since the 1930s. Journal of Political Ideologies, 11-36.
Sargent, L. T. (2009). Contemporary Political Ideologies: A Comparative Analysis. Belmont,CA: wadsworth Cencage Learning.