The recurring theme of equality in the United States has flared into a fervent moral issue at crucial stages: the Revolutionary and Jacksonian periods, the Civil War, the populist and progressive eras, the New Deal, and the 1960s and 1980s. The legitimacy of American society is challenged by some set of people unhappy with the degree of equality. New claims are laid, new understandings are reached, and new policies for political or economic equality are instituted. Yet the equality issue endures outside these moments of fervor. Ideologies in favor of extending equality are arrayed against others that would limit its scope; advocates of social justice confront defenders of liberty.
In the moments of egalitarian ascendancy, libertarians are on the defensive. In the moments of retrenchment, egalitarians cling to previous gains. And in either period the enemy is likely to be the "special interests " that have too much power. In egalitarian times, these are the moneyed interests. In times of retrenchment, these are labor or big government and its beneficiaries.
The moments of creedal passion, in Samuel Huntington's words, have usually been outbursts of egalitarianism. In part, the passion springs from the self—interest of those who would benefit from a more equal distribution of goods or political influence. But the passion also springs from ideology and values, including deep religious justifications for equality.
The passion accompanying the discovery or rediscovery that ideals do not match reality is particularly intense when the ideal is as deeply felt as is equality. Yet there can be passion on the nonegalitarian side as well. The self—interested passion to protect an established position may be even more powerful than the passion to redress inequality, though its expression may be more muted.
Devotion to inequality may also be based on ideals, such as liberty, individualism, and the free market, which are no less ancient and venerable. Like the ideals of equality, these alternative ideals serve as yardsticks for measuring whether society has moved away from its true principles.
Yet the spirit of reform during Reconstruction dissipated in the face of spent political struggles, sluggish social institutions, and outright mendacity. Society's entrepreneurial energy was channeled into economic activity, and the courts failed to endorse many of the reformers' grandest visions. The egalitarian thrust of the Populists around the turn of the century inspired an anti—egalitarian counterthrust over the next two decades.
Americans do not have an ideology that assigns clear priority to one value over any other. At every historical juncture where equality was an issue, its proponents failed to do all that they had set out to do. Swings in the equality of social conditions are restrained not just by institutional obstacles but by fundamental conflicts of values that are a traditional element of American politics. Faith in the individualistic work ethic and belief in the legitimacy of unequal wealth retard progression to the egalitarian left. As for conservatism, the indelible tenet of political equality firmly restrains the right and confirms a commitment to the disadvantaged. In seeking equal opportunity over equal result, Americans forego a ceiling, not a floor.
Suppose there is a government plan to raise taxes to pay for more social programs for the disadvantaged. If the information that the author presents in the passage about libertarians is correct, how would libertarians be expected to react this plan?[A] They would support the plan because they think that the government should help the disadvantaged.
[B] They would condemn the plan because they do not think that the government should use its power to redistribute wealth.
[C] They would neither support nor condemn the plan because it does not address political values.
[D] They would call on the government to let private welfare agencies look after the disadvantaged
The existence of which of the following would most strongly challenge the author's view about the American public's ideology?[A] A study that demonstrates that Americans have always favored equality above all other political values
[B] A book that asserts that Americans have always believed in the economic principle of unequal wealth
[C] An article that suggests that Americans are willing to support the taxation of the rich in order to assist the poor
[D] A lecture that shows that Americans have grown increasingly tolerant of minority political views since the turn of the century
In political discussions, the word enemy is bandied about with little regard for its precise meaning. In the context of the passage, the word, as used in the second passage, refers to:[A] those who are associated with the political left.
[B] those who promote the redistribution of America's wealth.
[C] those who oppose the prevailing view of American equality.
[D] those who favor a return to populist and progressive ideals.
According to the passage, none of the following statements are true EXCEPT:[A] the political upheaval of the Civil War increased the popularity of progressive ideals among the American public.
[B] eras of egalitarian reform in American history have been followed by eras of retrenchment.
[C] those who endorse nonegalitarian ideals have generally been less committed to their position than those who endorse egalitarian ideals.
[D] special interests have always had too much political power within the American government.
A history professor contends that American egalitarian movements have been motivated entirely by selfish concerns. Which of the following best characterizes the relevance of this information to the passage?[A] It is not relevant to the author's claim about the motives of those movements.
[B] It completely supports the author's claim about the motives of those movements.
[C] It completely contradicts the author's claim about the motives of those movements.
[D] It partly contradicts the author's claim about the motives of those movements.
In an effort to gain support for their respective causes, egalitarians and libertarians claim that powerful "special interests " oppose their policies. This claim seems most likely to be:[A] perhaps false, given the information presented in the passage.
[B] perhaps true, and supported by information presented in the passage.
[C] perhaps true, but not supported by any information presented in the passage.
[D] necessarily false, given the information presented in the passage.
The author would see all of the following as not uncharacteristic of American Society EXCEPT:[A] uneven distribution of wealth and power.
[B] recurring interest in issues of equality.
[C] an ideology that clearly recognizes some values as more important than others.
[D] passion toward maintaining inequality.