Has bigger more active government constrained freedom or does the increased scope of government serve to protect civil liberties and civil rights?
George Orwell's 1984 was about big government. "Big Brother is watching you," remember? How much freedom existed in this society of Orwell's? Clearly, the big, nanny government controls people. What did Thoreau say?
"That government governs best that governs least."
An earlier post points to the extension of protection of people's civil rights--only certain people. True, but, by the same token, others are prohibited from opportunities and positions so that some will not be denied their civil rights. For instance, the preferential awarding of contracts to certain companies over others on state and government bids. And, civil liberties were definitely hobbled with the ironically named Patriotic Act, an act that could not pass before 9/11.
I find it funny that the same people that say they prefer smaller government also want to limit social freedoms. They don't want people to have abortions or marry in the same sex. They want schools to teach abstinence and creationism along with evolution. They want to control what people think and do, and yet still have smaller government.
I think that the growth of government and to what end it grows helps to determine the answer to this question. For example, when government started to become more involved in the assurance of civil rights for all Americans, its growth was designed to protect civil liberties and civil rights. Those who were opposed to this growth felt that their particular freedoms were being trampled. We can hear much of this in the rhetoric of those who opposed federal mandates to integrate previously segregated areas. When the EPA was established and immediately targeted businesses who were culpable of practicing environmentally unsound practices, they claimed that a bigger and more active government was taking away their right to make a profit. Yet, the justifications was to increase civil liberties and the right to have an environment free of toxins and other harmful elements injected in it. When the size of government increases in the form of providing stimulus money, it is designed to help individuals sustain their economic rights and few complain of their civil rights or liberties being violated. I think that the previous thoughts about the Patriot Act and the size of government increasing is a valid one. In this instance, the size and reach of government grew to make sure that safety was the first priority and made little qualms about the fact that it saw individual rights as mutually exclusive, to a great extent, with what it perceived as security and protection. In the end, the justification for why government grows will always have detractors who argue that its growth will take away from individual rights as well as supporters who argue that its growth enhances civil rights for more individuals.
In my opinion, the more active government has worked to protect civil rights, but not civil liberties. (I also think that most of the expansion of the government has no impact on either civil rights or liberties).
I believe that the civil rights of most groups have generally been protected by government expansion. It is much harder to openly discriminate against anyone now that there are government agencies whose job is to prevent that. Governments also do lots of business with private companies and government contracts tend to help protect against discrimination as well.
However, civil liberties have been eroded to some extent by bigger government, especially since 9/11. The worries over terrorism and, to some extent, illegal immigration have made the government more aggressive in poking around in people's private lives.
The effect of government activities on civil liberties and rights of people depend on both the level and nature of the government action. A despotic and totalitarian government may act more to keep itself in power and to impose its chosen ideology forcibly over the entire population. In this case increased government activity is more likely to result in suppression of civil liberties. In contrast, when a government improves its welfare activities such as medical aid and reinforces its activities against criminal and anti-social elements, it protects the rights and liberties of the common citizen.