Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel, in his book Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do? (p. 247), provides two very interesting insights into way Republican and Democrats appeal to the idea of neutrality.
Both major political parties appealed to the idea of neutrality, but in different ways. Generally speaking, Republicans invoked the idea in economic policy, while Democrats applied it to social and cultural issues.
Republicans argued against government intervention in free markets on the grounds that individuals should be free to make their own economic choices and spend their money as they pleased; for government to spend taxpayers’ money or regulate economic activity for public purposes was to impose a state-sanctioned vision of the common good that not everyone shared. Tax cuts were preferable to government spending, because they left individuals free to decide for themselves what ends to pursue and how to spend their own money.
Democrats rejected the notion that free markets are neutral among ends and defended a greater measure of government intervention in the economy. But when it came to social and cultural issues, they, too, invoked the language of neutrality. Government should not “legislate morality” in the area of sexual behavior or reproductive decisions, they maintained, because to do so imposes on some the moral and religious convictions of others. Rather than restrict abortion or homosexual intimacies, government should be neutral on these morally charged questions and let individuals choose for themselves.
What strengths and weaknesses do you see in each position? Can you think of something better?