Module One



In a free society the state does not administer the affairs of men.  It administers justice among men who conduct their own affairs.

Walter Lippmann (1889–1974), U.S. journalist. The Good Society, ch. 12 (1937).


What Governments Believe...

Are we all singing the same song?



What governments believe 

Governments go further back than we think. We are sometimes surprised today to find democracies such as those found in Holland and Belgium, or even Sweden, still with a monarch. But we would be equally surprised to find that many kings and queens ruled centuries ago with governments under them.

Why do governments differ in the way they operate?

All governments, in whichever country we may find them and at whatever level we may encounter them i.e. local, regional or central strive towards the realisation of goals. These goals stem from, or originate in their manifesto which is a statement of intent as to what and how they intend to govern and provide services to their voters. This manifesto has its origin in a way of thinking, or an ideology.

What is an ideology? Discuss this with a friend.

What is the ideology of our present government? Ask around...

Has it changed in any way since its election to power? It should, perhaps have changed, just as times and circumstances change.

What do you really like about the ideology our government seeks to share with you?

Before we look at the four traditional ideologies, watch this excellent video which attempts to explain the continuum, or spectrum of beliefs. Although the narrator might mention political terms you are unfamiliar with, the basic principle remains the same.

Sit back and enjoy it...







How a government thinks or feels about society: the citizens and their needs, will determine how it acts and fulfills its goals: this is their Ideology.





Traditionally we look at four different types of ideology: 



 leave the people alone - considered pure Capitalism. Very few countries in the world practise this.


 Communism or a branch thereof...


as a form of Socialism, but with freedoms


 a democracy with Capitalism


1.  Laissez-faire  (laser fair)

During the reign of Louis XIV of France political rulers realised their financial wealth depended on the economic prosperity of their taxpayers. The king sent his Minister of Finance, Jean Baptiste Colbert, to a meeting of French private entrepreneurs to ask them what the government should do to increase their wealth - he was told "Laissez-faire ..." (let us alone).  By this the entrepreneurs meant that the king should allow them as much freedom as possible to conduct business, with as few restrictions as possible.

The person who answered, therefore, gave name to what later became an ideology.   

In 18th century France the champions of liberty used two common sayings:   

laissez-faire   - “let people do or make what they choose,” and

laissez passer  - “let us pass or go.”


And so an idea became an ideology. Here the ideology is to let people do as they please (economically). The government provides protection of land and rights (contracts) only. Little more. In fact the idea is that government takes part in very little else besides these two things. As you have probably observed a modern "democracy" is different - most modern governments get involved in much more. Too much more, many will say.

Who do you think benefits the most and the least from this ideology?

2.  Socialism

Socialism is seen as a system of statism  which means that the state itself is supreme and above all (especially above personal enterprise). There is absolute control of all economic, social, physical activities of the individual, allowing little individual liberty. The ownership of all the factors of production: land, raw material, labour and capital  is vested in the government, and the production, distribution and trade belong to the people and are administered by the government on behalf of the people. In a sense the people hand over the power they would normally exercise themselves to government officials.


10 Commandments Of Socialism - (according to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels)

1.            the abolition of property rights for land and utilization of all income from rents for public purposes;

2.            abolition of all inheritance rights;

3.            confiscation of all property of immigrants and rebels;

4.            centralization of credit in the hands of the state;

5.            a heavy progressive or graduated income tax;

6.            centralization of the means of communication and transport to the state;

7.            extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state;

8.            equal obligation on all to work;

9.            integration of agriculture with manufacturing industries;

10.          free education for all children in public schools.

Some great ideas, but it didn’t work.  Can you think why?

 3.  Social Welfare State       

Here we can see why pure Socialism became unpopular over time:

  • People soon became tired of a totalitarian government which took all the power away from individuals;

  • There was also much improvement of workers and the less privileged, which created a situation where reform through revolution became unnecessary;

  • There was a realisation that political evolution is better than political revolution;

  • The natural spirit of entrepreneurship is impossible to ignore ....


Nations and communities began to seek for some balance between the extremes: the Laissez-Faire - where the rich got richer and the entrepreneurs took all, with little or no protection of the less privileged, and Socialism - where all remained relatively poor and looked after, but people had no freedom to decide for themselves.

This resulted in the Modern Social Welfare  State. This ideology guarantees competition for the entrepreneur, while seeking to look after all citizens as much as possible (and this can vary greatly between countries, and is usually the topic of hot debate). This difference is a result of how governments differ in their ideology.

Without guaranteeing a share in everything as Socialism did, this ideology tries to supply basic services such as education, pensions, medical care, housing, protection against loss of jobs, etc. from the cradle to the grave.




It does this by controlling most or all institutions.  For example - the following is most common in such a style of government, in countries around the world:

  • people retire at 60 with a full pension from the state,

  • parents receive an allowance for each child,

  • some countries even pay out holiday bonuses to each citizen,

  • citizens receive allowance money (dole) even though they do not work.


This sounds great, when do we start? 

Can you think of problems?

4.  Economic Welfare State

So this is where democracy comes from (or at least tries to emulate):

A true economic welfare state attempts to maintain and promote a democratic, free-enterprise politico-economic system.  It holds as its value system: a representative government, freedom of thought/speech, all communication media; private property rights for land and the production factors (opposite to socialism) and the freedom to trade.

This system holds as a pre-requisite that any government should intervene in the economic activities of the individual as little as possible; that a market system of supply and demand should be allowed to operate unhindered, and any intervention should be kept to an absolute minimum.

This does not mean such a government would neglect looking after its citizens; but it would probably not sanction as many "cradle-to-grave" social services as a Socialist orientated government. It is very interesting to note that President Obama is trying to provide medical insurance/care to the 40 million Americans who cannot afford it (a more socialist approach), and a large percentage of the American population is against this move; they feel strongly that this move would make America look more like the many communist/socialist countries the US has opposed: most Americans see Canada as a "socialist country". They feel that people should be left alone to decide for themselves, and that if they cannot afford medical insurance, it should be their problem. The debate continues, and is in essence representative of the Socialist - Laissez-faire continuum itself - see below.

Clearly there is a large amount of laissez-faire in the ideology of the Economic Welfare State that favours, above all, a free economy – exactly how much differs from country to country.


Why do you think this ideology is so popular?

Which large country in the world is supposed to be a model of this ideology?

What are the main advantages?


Why do you think the government is unpopular with journalists when it tries to stop them from reporting as they see fit?

Which people in society do you think love this ideology?  Why?

Who would not welcome it as much? Why?


So by looking closely at the various ideologies above, one can see how society has been influenced with the two extremes of Capitalism and Socialism.


South Africa is a modern democracy and, depending on policy (ideology) and social needs, the government tends to 'lean’ towards either a laissez-faire economic policy, or towards a more socialist (welfare) way of organising society. There is perhaps no perfect example of pure democracy, or capitalism.

Every government finds itself on the continuum between the two extremes. In some respects a government might lean more towards one ideology, or style of governance, than another for a particular reason.

Most governments in power can be placed, in general terms, somewhere on the continuum itself.


Where would you like to place SA on the continuum in picture one below; a 4 to the left, a six to the right; what is your opinion?

Does a government have to adopt one ideology exclusively?

When do you think a government will lean towards L and when will it lean towards S ?

Where would you place your government on the continuum with regard to the following:  health; education; trade...? 


Democracy is all about people saying collectively what they want in their country – whether this be certain services or certain laws. But does democracy always work?  What if the people want something that is not according to democratic principles?  Can you think of an example of something that many people in South Africa are demanding, but the government refuses?  It has to do with punishment.  What are the arguments, and where do you stand?


Would you be able to choose one of the options below?  

A.    A democracy, but one that leans heavily towards S, neglects entrepreneurship and economic growth, restricts individuality and regulates the economy, or …

B.     A dictatorship/monarchy which leans heavily towards L and allows people to trade, live and grow as they see fit; here the economy thrives.

Design your own ‘perfect’ system of government or rule.  Say why you have chosen this and what you expect to happen …




You have completed

Module One


how did you do?


In Module Two we shall

be looking at the origins of democracy –

whose idea was it anyway?



Let's go there...