Politics in Minutes (2016)

Small government

While in Europe liberalism was increasingly influenced by socialist ideas, especially in areas of welfare, public health and education, American liberalism stuck more to the classical principle of minimal government authority over the freedom of the individual. This American attitude was summed up by the writer Henry David Thoreau: ‘government is best which governs least’. Classical liberalism considered government as something of a necessary evil, and laws and regulation as obstacles to personal liberty and, above all, free enterprise.

The notion of small government persisted in the 20th century, in the form of an opposition to the rising tide of socialism. This interpretation of liberalism, with the emphasis on small government, deregulation of commerce and minimum public spending rather than individual liberty and equality, developed from the free-market capitalism espoused by 19th-century liberals. Now it is the orthodoxy not of the progressive liberals, but the socially and economically right-wing conservatives.