American attitudes about government and politics | US government and civics | Khan Academy

American attitudes about government and politics | US government and civics | Khan Academy

– What we’re going to do in this video is think about how the core beliefs of U.S. citizens impacts their views on the role of government. And what I’m gonna do is talk about a few core beliefs that are often associated
with the United States, but taken with a grain of salt. It’s obviously a very large and a very diverse country where people have many,
many, many beliefs. Now one thing that often gets associated with the United States is this idea of self-reliance. Self-reliance. Or sometimes would be
called individualism, or these are related ideas, individualism. And this is the idea that, hey look, an individual, if people
don’t get in their way, can take care of themselves, that the goals of that individual should sometimes or often trump those of the collective, or say the government. And so you can imagine, someone who has a strong core belief in self-reliance or individualism, they would want a limited government. They would say hey government, just get out of my way and I can take care of myself. Now, a related idea to that, but this would be going
into the corporate realm or the entrepreneurial realm, is the idea of free enterprise. Free enterprise. And this is the idea that, hey, we can generate wealth,
we can create things, we can innovate, once
again, if enterprise, if entrepreneurial activity, is left to its own devices. Now, once again, this core belief in free enterprise would probably favor a limited government. Hey government, just get outta my way. The more that you get involved, that just slows things down. That just is a wet
blanket on the creativity and on the wealth
creation that we could do, left to our own devices. Now, another idea is that of equality of opportunity, often associated with the United Sates, equality of opportunity. And this goes to the
roots of the United States where we don’t have a formal nobility, obviously, we don’t
have things like kings. That the country started off, obviously there’s some major exceptions around things like slavery, but the country took pride in ideas of equality of oppurtunity. And to some degree, they feed into these
first two bullet points, that if there truly is
equality of oppurtunity, it kind of backs up the idea that, hey, let’s just let people take care of themselves. Now on the other hand,
someone who really cares about equality of opportunity might say, well, hold on a second, not everyone is born into
the same circumstance. And because of that, if you truly care about equality of oppurtunity, there might be a role for
the government to play in helping to level that
playing field a bit. So these folks might not want as limited of a government
as some of the folks who are strongly in the camp of self-reliance or individualism. Now the fourth core belief I’ll talk about and that is the rule of law. Rule of law. Now, any country, in order to function, needs a rule of law. But one thing that the United States takes pride in itself, and I think the United States citizens take pride in itself, is that, hey look, if there’s going to be a contract between individuals, people will uphold that contract, that because of a solid rule of law, it’s less likely that people will get away with crimes. And there are examples that you could look around the world where people might have less faith in the rule of law. Well, (mumbles) people are getting away with stuff or if I get into an
agreement with someone, there’s no way that I can really enforce that agreement. And so the rule of law, this would argue for
some role of government, but it depends how focused or how limited of a rule of law people’s
core beliefs are. And to make these core beliefs and their impact on government a little bit more tangible, I have some quotes from
some notable Americans. Now several of these are Presidents, but their views are really indicative of broader views in the
American population. So, this first one comes from President Ronald Reagan and he said, Government’s first duty
is to protect the people, not run their lives. So which core beliefs do
you think Ronald Reagan is representing here? Well, when I look at this, it seems like he doesn’t
want the government to really mess with people’s lives, he’s really talking about self-reliance, individualism, free enterprise. And he is making some reference, that look, there is a duty
to protect the people. So he’s saying you do need the government to enforce the rule of law, but he seems to favor a limited government and he, indeed, did favor
a limited government that does not get in the way of, say, free enterprise or people’s ability to be self-reliant. Now, some would argue on the other end of the spectrum, here is a quote from Franklin Roosevelt, in which he said, Not only our future economic soundness but the very soundness of our democratic institutions depends on the determination
of our government to give employment to idle men. So, FDR here, is talking about a very active government, not the type of limited government that Ronald Reagan seems to allude to. Here, he’s saying that it’s the job of the government, and remember the context here is FDR was President
during the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II, and during the Great Depression you had massive unemployment, and he’s saying look, not only the future of
our economic soundness but the very soundness of our democratic institutions depends on the determination of the government to give employment to these men. Now, his argument might have been look, if we don’t give employment, then you could have a
revolution on your hands, then people are gonna lose faith in this idea of the United States, they’re gonna lose
faith in the government. Now, on the other hand, some people might say the whole reason why we were in that mess is that the government
was intervening too much and the more that the
government intervenes, it actually might not
allow free enterprise to naturally solve the economic situation that we were in at the time. But, once again, Franklin
Roosevelt seemed to be a little bit less on self-reliance cause he said, look, these people aren’t gonna
find jobs on their own, the government needs to get them jobs. Now here’s another viewpoint. This is from President Barack Obama. And here, President Obama says, The internet didn’t get
invented in its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our
individual initiative, but also because we do things together. So this is an interesting argument. When he’s saying this, he’s clearly making
reference to these ideas of individualism and free enterprise that are strong core beliefs in the United States. This individualism is, we succeed because of our individual initiative and free enterprise. These companies that are making money off the Internet, but his point is that these things didn’t
happen on their own, that, at least in this case, the Internet was started
as a government project. You had DARPANET and ARPANET, which eventually evolved into the Internet so that free enterprise could take over and, frankly, allow you
to watch this video. He’s saying that the
government actually does have a role here and because of that role that the government has played, it has actually allowed things like self-reliance, individualism, and free enterprise to flourish even more. And last but not least,
I’ll give you a quote from famous conservative economist, Milton Friedman. He used to be a professor at the University of Chicago and he said, Government has three primary functions. It should provide for military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts
between individuals. It should protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property. And so Milton Friedman, here, is clearly advocating
for a limited government. In terms of his core beliefs, clearly from this statement, he says, look, a rule of law is necessary. You have to have your
contracts between citizens, you need to protect citizens from crimes against
themselves or their property. If you read more Milton Friedman quotes and I encourage you to, regardless of where you are on the philosophical spectrum, they’re all quite interesting. He has a strong underlying core belief in self-reliance, individualism, and free enterprise. But I’ll leave you there. Think about it on your own. How does the core belief of a United States citizen,
including yourself, how does that impact your view of the role of government?


  1. Thanks for the disclaimer. As for free enterprise we don’t have it here. We pander to special interests allowing religion to act as corporations and allowing these massive monopolies to form. Monopolies kill competition. Also, corporations are not democratic institutions nor does the government function like a company (that seems to be something most Americans don’t realize). There’s a balance needed. One extreme or another only works out for the very few. Rule of law only works if they are enforced in accordance of the law. If law doesn’t apply to all (I am aware some laws applying to certain groups is needed. Like we don’t want toddlers driving SUVs) and is manipulated by those in charge to promote their own agenda, it isn’t any better than anarchy.

    Other than ARPANET, there are other examples of government laying the foundation. We never would have gone to the moon without government. It laid the path for private enterprise to pick up where the government left off.

    Government also is needed to set protected professions and set property lines. We can’t have everyone and everybody setting vastly different standards for say becoming an MD. A deciding authority is also needed in order to set property. If I buy 40 acres from my neighbor it does no one any good if Acme Inc comes in and says no, you only own 20. Then having my neighbor say no, I own 30 acres because the previous owner promised it to me while drunk one night.

  2. Thanks for taking this on… Today, these ideas are often so triggering it's hard to even put them on a video without emotional outbreaks. For what it's worth, I am so pleased to see your videos on how government works (or was designed to work).

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