Of all the aims of government, most people can agree that individual liberty is to be one of the highest priorities. Although in contemporary politics it is largely thought to be a libertarian ideal, most people do not want intrusion into their life by a governmental agency. The problem arises when there is a legitimate need for some intrusion, whether it is monitoring communications (with the intent to protect the people from terrorism) or the imposition of regulations in the free market (with the intent to prevent the emergence of a monopoly); and whether an individual is a conservative or liberal usually dictates which they focus on, respectively. Many Americans deplore having any interaction with the government at all. We aren’t submissive people. Thus, the government is tasked with simultaneously maximizing individual liberty with the good of the public; all the while trying to maintain a benevolent image despite many programs (that are created with the good of the public in mind) being very controversial. This is a uniquely difficult balancing act because there is often a trade-off between them, i.e. the people must relinquish individual liberty in order to advance the public good. Of the various mainstream political ideologies in modern America, I do believe that progressive liberalism does a satisfactory job balancing these two concerns, primarily because of the way I personally interpret the idea of individual liberty. Additionally, I believe the amount of empathy a person has dictates whether they will be an advocate for the concept of equality of opportunity or adopt a more Darwinist approach that advocates making do with what you have. Because these theoretical questions nearly always lead to normative answers, I believe that support or disdain for the following liberal ideals comes from a very foundational place within each of us.

When deciding which political ideology satisfies this trade off best, there are two concepts that must be thoroughly understood that will guide people to their answer. The first is how you define liberty. John Stuart Mill, hundreds of years ago, first advanced what we like to think of today as a negative interpretation of liberty. Mill’s “. . . general theme was that government should leave people alone, provided they do not harm others. He held that since we do not know beyond doubt what is desirable and undesirable, people should be allowed to argue the question freely, neither government nor society imposing any restraint on speech or press,” (Van Dyke 11). In other words, the people had more liberty the more the government refrained from interacting with them. This negative idea of liberty also pervaded in the economic realm, with Adam Smith advancing the idea of laissez-faire governmental economic policy. Laissez-faire condemned regulation of the free-market, advocating total economic freedom and implying that any government action would likely be detrimental to the economy.

During the latter half of the 19th century, a newer form of liberalism emerged. T.H. Green, as well as others, began to advance the idea that the negative interpretation of liberty is not what we should attempt to achieve. Green says, “When we speak of freedom. . . we mean a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying. . . [Freedom is] the liberation of the powers of all men equally for contributions to the common good,” (Van Dyke 19). Thus, there was a mass realignment among the people, and liberty had begun to be understood in a different way on the most fundamental of levels. The role of government was evolving. Government was now responsible to not only remove the chains of those who were at a disadvantage relative to others; it was now additionally tasked with providing a means for those people to improve their life further. If the mass creation of opportunity for the people is “public good,” which I think is a fair assumption to make; and individual liberty is to be thought of as the capacity for people to make the best of themselves, then this is the more philosophic reason that I believe progressive liberalism is effective at balancing individual liberty and public good.

The second concept that must be personally defined is whether one’s idea of liberty places emphasis more so on economic liberty or social liberty. Formally, the definition of liberty encompasses both of these; but the problem is, here again, there seems to be a trade-off. Liberal ideology seems to consistently sacrifice economic liberty for better social positioning (e.g. redistribution of wealth, regulation of industry), though this was not always the case. Classical liberals and their laissez-faire economics were strictly against economic regulation. In modern times, however, we collectively give up a great deal of money so as to support those who are worse off than ourselves: increasing their capacity to better themselves by receiving financial help. If conservatives place more emphasis on economic liberty, which I think is a fair assumption to make; and social tolerance is to be thought of as a characteristic of an advanced society (implying tolerance is for the public good), then this is one of the more tangible reasons that I believe progressive liberalism is effective at balancing individual liberty and public good.

At the root of liberalism is its emphasis on equality of opportunity. This can be defined as “what exists in the absence of arbitrary discrimination, disadvantages or handicaps for which society is responsible, and disadvantages or handicaps for which the individual is not responsible,” (Van Dyke 85). To simplify, this is the belief that everyone should have an equal chance in life, regardless of their socioeconomic status, and that no one should be disadvantaged due to artificial and arbitrary discrimination. Ceteris paribus, talent and skill should be the deciding factor in an individual’s success, not race or the neighborhood you grew up in. This is a very widely accepted ideal, but the split between conservatives and liberals happens with the implementation of the equality of opportunity. It takes a great deal of funding to get close, and this neccesitates giving up individual economic liberty for the public good, which conservatives oppose and liberals advocate. F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislative program is the widely accepted starting point for a government that put equality of opportunity at the forefront of the agenda. Roosevelt’s administration enacted a massive amount of legislation with the aim of alleviating the financial stresses of the American people following the Great Depression that began in 1928. Roosevelt “. . . saw a need for an activist and interventionalist government- a government that would actively strive to make it possible for people to have better lives” and he wished to “give worth to freedom by making jobs and food available” (Van Dyke 39).

Programs such as Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicare/Medicaid all seek to provide everyone with at least a minimal amount of footing. We, as society, have decided that it is worth the expense to ensure that everyone at least has a means to feed their family and receive medical care should they need it. Since the New Deal, government has made countless attempts to give the best possible advantage to the disadvantaged, and many conservatives would still consider these efforts in vain. They see an infringement on individual liberty because taxes must necessarily increase to support these sweeping programs, but I personally feel that these gestures for the public good are worth the abdication of a small amount of individual liberty. Indeed, there is redistribution taking place, but I see the balance as very reasonable, and the public benefit satisfactory.

In conclusion, whether an individual feels that the progressive liberal ideology does a suitable job in balancing public good with individual liberty almost entirely is question of personal beliefs about human nature. Of these beliefs, they are nearly all so fundamental and foundational to everything else that people very rarely abandon one ideology to accept another. My point is that an individual who is conservative could take every point I have argued here and simply argue it the other way; with both our conclusions being normative in nature. Regardless, I strongly feel that citizens have a responsibility to each other. We should, by default, ensure that our fellow man has a roof over his head and food on his table, with the burden of proving his unworthiness on us. Even if this means increased financial burden on myself, I am accepting of it. The public good is worth the minimal encroachment on my paycheck.



Van Dyke, Vernon. Ideology and Political Choice. Chatham: Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1995.


Political ideologies control nearly every facet of governmental action. They drive us all to make decisions, and we rely on them heavily in our daily lives. In this essay I examine the ideologies of two United States Senators with respect to the solution to global warming, as well as the hotly debated issue of immigration reform. Nexuses are formed between their political positions, congressional votes, and their individual political ideologies. Despite these two specific issues being somewhat a product of contemporary political discourse, the aforementioned connections can be made. I will also shine a light on my own personal political ideology, relating it to the positions the Senators take, and explaining how other characteristics of my ideology influence my daily decision-making process and drive me towards certain beliefs about individual and group behavior, and also the role of government.


The salience of environmental issues are increasing on a daily basis. Businesses are flocking to the “Go-Green” bandwagon in an attempt to take advantage of the growing consumer belief that we have a moral responsibility to put the environment first. As an individual that strongly believes in environmental preservation, regardless of the intentions, it is refreshing to see such an emphasis on these issues. Such a widespread consensus is what makes Jim Inhofe’s (R-Oklahoma) actions so disheartening. Inhofe is one of the most prominent and outspoken critics of global warming, even authoring a book that was published in 2012 named “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” The icing on the cake is that Inhofe is the chairperson of the Senate Environment Committee, and has also received (to date) $1,734,471 in campaign contributions from companies in the oil and gas industries (Open Secrets).

What makes Inhofe’s position on global warming especially significant is that his outspoken denial has far more than just domestic implications. The planet and citizens of every nation stand to suffer from his influence. Inhofe has cited the Bible on the Senate floor when addressing his colleagues in an attempt to sway their vote on bills with environmental impact, with quotes such as “Climate is changing, and climate has always changed. There’s archeological evidence of that. There’s biblical evidence of that. There’s historic evidence of that. The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful, they can change climate. Man can’t change climate,” which in fact we have and we will (Schulman). I am not trying to disrespect Christianity, but I am trying to discredit it as a source for scientific information relevant to the 21st century. His denial is dangerous, especially when he appeals to his religious base in order to make a divine connection. The layman sees these exchanges on CSPAN, and because they aren’t particularly interested in the subject, don’t seek out additional information; ultimately taking his word for it.

Inhofe’s approach to environmental concerns has characteristics of economic conservatism, as well as libertarianism, although his outright denial of scientific fact is reminiscent of no political ideology. His biggest argument, especially in his book, is that the governmental regulation of companies that contribute to global warming and pollution is not worth the cost they must impose- either administrative or punitive. From the cover of his book, “Americans are over-regulated and over-taxed. When regulation escalates, the result is an increase in regulators. In other words, bigger government is required to enforce the greater degree of regulation. Bigger government means bigger budgets and higher taxes. . . A perfect example is the entire global warming, climate-change issue, which is an effort to dramatically and hugely increase regulation of each of our lives . . .” (Inhofe). Inhofe conflates the question of causality, presenting to his readers the “cause” of the global warming issue is an insatiable lust for bigger government by the bureaucracy. He is confusing the issue, trying to elicit an emotional rather than a rational response from his readers; which is literally one of the fundamental goals of political propaganda.

I do not attempt here to refute Inhofe’s arguments, but I do wish to point out that he has seemed to have forgotten one of government’s most fundamental purposes: the control of negative externalities. Global warming qualifies. The creation of pollution has an unquantifiable negative effect on each and every one of us. It is a textbook collective-goods problem, which Inhofe should absolutely be well versed, testament to his BA in Economics. Economic conservatives are of the belief that the costs imposed through regulation for environmental purposes aren’t worth the increase in the federal bureaucracy, saying it is “the biggest impetus for the growth in government in our time. . .” (Van Dyke 171). Many libertarians take the position that the free-market will keep these externalities under control, but too often we see that is not the case at all- and most of the time only serves to exacerbate externalities created by the free-market in the first place, e.g. global warming. Because global warming is such an illustrious example of a negative externality, liberals are almost unanimously favorable to governmental regulation of it. It is a strong belief that I personally hold, and I look forward to the day that Inhofe is voted out of office before his misinformation campaign does anymore damage to the global movement for environmental preservation.


Immigration reform has been at the forefront of political discourse since the beginning of 2014, culminating in President Obama’s assertion that he will use an executive order to put his desired reforms in place until Congress passes a bill. This presented a huge problem for a divided Congress, as the Republican House of Representative’s leadership refused to call a vote on the immigration bill that had passed in the Senate. This bill had garnered a significant amount of bipartisan support throughout Congress and the public, but without action by the Speaker of the House, reform was at an impasse.

One of Obama’s biggest opponents on immigration reform is Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Cruz presents his own platform, calling mainly for increased border security and deportation of those that are already in the United States illegally. He has proposed amendments to the immigration bill that bar any illegal immigrant from “becoming a citizen at any point.” The “Gang of Eight” group that Cruz is a part of has proposed their own immigration platform that modifies the current path to citizenship, forcing immigrants to learn English, imposing brow-raising fines, and requires United States residency for ten years. All in all, it would take thirteen years for immigrants to obtain citizenship status; unreasonable by any measure (Foley).

Cruz takes a staunchly social conservative approach to this legislation. He rejects the principle of multiculturalism, apparent in his proposed legislation that forces immigrants to learn English and assimilate; which is especially ironic considering Cruz has a Cuban father. He rejects individualism in this sense, a conservative principle, fearing a trend towards a more ethnically diverse nation and a future demographic composition that social conservatives fear will undermine “a common culture and a single society,” (Van Dyke 77).

The United States has historically been a multicultural nation, and the act of respecting the heritage of others is a sanctified principle of our country. Sure, there is always societal pressure to assimilate to our culture, but we have never forced it to happen, and that’s precisely what Ted Cruz seeks to do. Another fundamental principle of American political thought are the ideas of tolerance and neutrality; and with immigration, these notions are especially relevent. We have a duty not only to our citizens but to our immigrants to treat them as equals, maintain neutrality with respect to their own ideological doctrines, and be tolerant with respect to their culture. The language they speak is to always be their decision. Furthermore we should be accepting of people’s desires to immigrate to the United States to begin with, as we are a nation comprised almost in its entirety of immigrants. Cruz is obviously not on board with this ideal, seeking to structure the immigration system in such a way as to discourage people from immigrating, or encourage people to immigrate illegally with regard to the thirteen-year-long pathway to citizenship. This is not American. It’s not who we are.


Of all the political ideologies I have been exposed to and studied, I would submit that neoliberalism best encapsulates my beliefs about government and human nature. When I speak of neoliberalism, I mean an ideology that has progressive liberalism at its heart, but places more emphasis on restraint and reason. I actively strive to prevent decisions made with regard to strict adherence to an ideology, and most importantly I frequently make an attempt to reason myself out of my beliefs. Neoliberals “want thoughtful rather than automatic responses to problems, not sticking strictly to the old ideological line,” (Van Dyke 267). Neoliberals also stress deference to the entrepreneur, believing that economic growth and societal stability begins with business owners. I share these same ideas, and I believe that removing regulation that hurts business and enacting policy that rewards domestic companies for staying domestic would be beneficial to society as a whole.

Social equality is to be strived for, though unlike Kaus, I do not believe that we should completely give up the fight for economic equality (Van Dyke 268). By placing more emphasis on social equality, however, I believe that a new found societal attitude towards each other would help more than anything to solve our current issues with the massive wealth gap between the rich and the poor. If everyone were seen as equals, perhaps we would see less greed and more charity. The death of arbitrary discrimination, racism, and bigotry is long past due. Even with unprecedented access to the collective knowledge and news of the world, there are some that still thrive on these social inequalities. Liberalism has worked to diminish the effects of them to a great extent over the several decades, but there is still much more that needs to be done.

In this principle of social equality is another very important characteristic of my (as well as liberal) political ideology: the elevation of the principle of tolerance. Several issues have risen to prominence over the past several decades that shouldn’t be a policy debate to begin with, but even so, it is too often that people do not exercise neutrality to them. Emerging in the 1970’s after Roe v. Wade was the issue of abortion, which still continues vigorously to this day. Abortion clinics have daily protests outside the doors, shaming every woman that chooses to purchase their services. These women choose to have an abortion not out of pleasure but out of desperation; and because many experience their own guilt afterwards their privacy should be respected; the public shaming is uncalled for. Those hostile to abortion cannot exercise neutrality, and nor can they tolerate this practice or respect the privacy of the aforementioned women. Unfortunately, there seems to be no clear end to this debate. Perhaps more sex education in schools, or a nationwide welfare program that assists new mothers explicitly with childcare could better curtail the number of abortions taking place.

Tolerance with respect to nationality and religion is a principle needed now more than ever. With the recent attacks throughout the world, various terrorist groups have painted a distasteful picture for Arabs of every nationality. People are becoming more and more frustrated with practitioners of Islam because the media coverage adversely selects only the tragedies with nothing positive to counter. This has led to widespread negative sentiment towards Arabs and Muslims alike, prompting several global social media campaigns to reiterate tolerance among the people; such as the #JeSuisCharlie campaign after the Charlie Hebdo attacks and #IllRideWithYou post-café-attack in Sydney. More importantly, tolerance must be exercised in a reciprocal fashion. No matter the social backlash, the shame is ultimately on the terrorists that have a great deal of trouble exercising tolerance themselves. Increased societal intolerance of anything destroys our equity in progress, while damaging our cohesion as a people. It limits us in advancing a unified social agenda, and disrupts the democratic process by obfuscating the importance of issues.

Neutrality with respect to religion is a principle I fear we will never come close to achieving. Every year, it seems, there is a new court case addressing prayer in a school. At the root of the Judeo-Christian-supremacy sentiment many Americans harbor is the common misconception that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. I suppose the Framers of the Constitution tried their best to dispel any future misinterpretation by stating plainly that the church and state were to forever be separate, but still many Americans don’t feel the same way. Reagan himself said we must “allow God back into our classrooms. He never should have been expelled in the first place,” (Van Dyke 196). Thus, I take the completely opposite position than a social conservative would take: I do not believe that any explicitly religious moral rule should be a doctrine that the state plays a role in imposing. Religions deserve respect, provided they give it to others, but they do not belong in the public sector. The separation of church and state is what has allowed us to progress so much as a nation, and to adulterate that principle is to spell the death of hallowed American values.

At the center of it all is the liberal idea of equality of opportunity and positive liberty. The government has a duty to provide means for people (that would otherwise be trapped in poverty indefinitely) to find financial security and economic success. Socioeconomic status is almost always decided by the socioeconomic status of the family you were born into. Equality of opportunity should be our goal by default, and “the burden of justification [is] on those who support some kind of inequality,” (Van Dyke 83). We all have a responsibility to each other to ensure that constraints outside of others’ control will not limit them in their pursuits, social or economic. Aside from a moral responsibility, there are economic considerations as well. When an individual is proficient at, or even has the capacity to learn, a skill but is never able to engage in that business in the marketplace, inefficiencies are created where the individual could possibly do the job better than another.

Liberty should have worth. We should not simply settle on a definition that defines liberty as the absence of arbitrary discrimination. People must have real choices, and it is the role of government to ensure that is the case for every individual in this nation.

Other species on this planet fight for food. They fight for a mate, and some even fight for shelter. What makes humans different is that we fight for our beliefs. In our modern world we call this fight politics, and it controls nearly every aspect of our lives. It seems petty in this context, but I cannot help feeling anxious that the (subjectively) wrong kind of legislation might be passed with regard to environmental concerns or immigration reform. It seems insignificant, yes, but our capacity to reason gives rise to the empathetic concerns I have for those that will be affected by these decisions. This capacity to reason we share with no other species, and that’s what makes politics important, and the study of political ideology essential.


Foley, Elise. “Ted Cruz Files Immigration Amendment to Ban Path to Citizenship.” Huffington Post, 8 May 2013. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Inhofe, James. The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. WND Books, 2012. Print.

“Senator James M. Inhofe.” Open Secrets, 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Van Dyke, Vernon. Ideology and Political Choice. Chatham: Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1995.