Living with Leviathan

Americans Coming to Terms with Big Government

Linda L. M. Bennett and Stephen Earl Bennett

Big Brother just gets bigger. Are we worried?

Distrust of a strong central government has been a recurrent theme in our political culture, from the Antifederalists through the Bush administration. What lies behind our preference for a weak central government? Are Americans still fearful of being swallowed whole by the leviathan?

“A significant contribution to the field of public opinion. . . . No other book has ordered and analyzed a comparable set of data regarding attitudes toward the power of the federal government. The thorough analysis of a broad database over time will make the book difficult to ignore, even by those who may wish to dispute its conclusions. It will also appeal to political theorists as they assess the extent to which liberty and equality can be simultaneously maintained.”

—Michael Margolis, author of Political Stratification and Democracy and Viable Democracy and coauthor of Manipulating Public Opinion

The Bennetts say not. Charting trends in American public opinion about big government from the 1930s to 1989, with emphasis on the last 25 years, they trace how we have adapted to a growing national government. They analyze what these opinions tell us about changing themes in American popular culture and document the significant differences in public opinion about big government, the positive state, and citizens' obligations.

Typically, Americans want more government for less money. They want the feds out of their pockets but not necessarily off their backs. Reflexively opposed to higher taxes, they want more government spending for a host of programs and can be convinced of the need for more regulation.

The Bennetts also look at how Americans of all ages feel about their duties as citizens and what the declining sense of obligation, particularly among the young, means for American political culture. Their findings have relevance for public opinion, public policy, democratic theory, political socialization, and presidential studies.

About the Author

Linda L. M. Bennett is associate professor of political science at Wittenberg University and the author of Symbolic State Politics. Stephen Earl Bennett is professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati and the author of Apathy in America.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series