Skip to comments.Are You Liberal Or Conservative?
Posted on 05/10/2002 8:26:22 AM PDT by Starmaker
The answer to this question, as used in political connotation, requires an understanding of the respective terms. This process involves the semantics of their use in discourse.
It stands to reason that a mutual understanding of the words and terms when utilized in discussions is required for communication between the parties involved to convey true meaning to the discourse. This is especially true when the words and terms are expressed in ideological and political platforms and through the media to the public at large. Unfortunately the dictionary usually only deals in defining words and is insufficient in providing the required semantical definition necessary for one to clearly obtain true meaning in their actual application.
To further confuse the issue, we find in conversation the interchange of the words liberal with being to the left and conservative as being to the right. This apparently arose from the use of the terms in the parliaments of foreign countries; the parts of the parliamentary chambers located to the right and left of the presiding officers accordingly representing conservative and liberal elements respectively. Adding additional complication we find, at times, connotations used tying to the far right as tending towards fascism and to the far left towards socialism or even communism.
Unfortunately, these terms are flagrantly interchanged by activists, politicians and those in the media. This results in the public receiving distorted and frequently misrepresentation of the facts. Our interest here is to the mis-information being conveyed to the American people that accordingly distorts their ability to clearly understand the meaning of the rhetoric to which they are exposed.
Looking to the past, it is no wonder that confusion exists regarding the understanding of what the terms liberal and conservative really mean. It is only in the last century that the term liberal has become associated with socialism. This collectivist ideology involves the redistribution of income and wealth with an accordingly greater control by the central government over the interactions of economic enterprise. Prior to this evolutionary change, being liberal had the reverse meaning of being in strong support of individual freedom with an attendant limited role of government in one´s life.
The term liberalism was coined in Europe somewhere in the late 17th or early 18th century to represent a political philosophy that emphasized limited government with individual freedom and civil liberties. It promoted representative government and property rights along with freedom of religion In economic matters it favored non-interference from government since the forces of the marketplace would provide the best results for the nation´s people. Thus, at its prime liberalism represented limited government with a separation of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches and economic free enterprise. Sounds like present day conservatism doesn´t it?
The term conservatism was coined to represent beliefs that arose to counter liberalism . Essentially, it supported the existing distribution of power, wealth and attendant social status. These beliefs included emphasizing faith and tradition ahead of freedom of thought and speech, as well as, supporting the total interest of society over those of its individual members. Sounds to a degree like present day liberalism doesn´t it?
Unlike Europe, America in the process of enacting a Constitution had developed political beliefs that included economic individualism and the limitation of government power. This was incorporated into the Constitution. This did not follow the beliefs underlying European conservatism but was in fact closer to European liberalism. The American beliefs accepted the concepts of a free market and the personal acquisition of property by individuals. Individual freedoms and property rights were representative of attendant moral, religious, political, and civil rights. As the provisions of the Constitution decreed, the federal government was limited to acting in those areas wherein the states themselves did not have that ability, in inter-state matters and in foreign relations. Great importance was placed on separation of powers, judicial review, and states' rights as opposed to federal power. This then became the foundation of American conservatism.
Entering into the 20th century Americans generally accepted these principles that were to carry the conservative label. However, there was a political movement evolving that could now be endowed with the new label of liberalism, American style, that had beliefs that government should be more involved in social issues and in controlling the free market. Since the economy had become more complex as it expanded , these liberal elements began to support the idea that the government could best promote the interests of its citizens by regulating the economy and having government provide for the welfare of its citizenry. In addition they wanted government to correct economic deficiencies they believed to be caused by unregulated capitalism. They supported progressive taxation, antitrust laws, a minimum wage, social security, public education, safety and health regulations, consumer protection and environmental preservation laws. Some of them became socialists, although not necessarily openly supporting Marxism and communism.
These elements eventually found a way, albeit gradually, to change the course of government. The federal government, supported by three quarters of the state legislatures, aided and abetted these elements in enacting the 16th Amendment to the Constitution in 1913 taxing the income of wage earners. Although at first it placed only a nominal tax on those with extraordinarily high incomes, with time it evolved into a broad based tax on virtually all income. The federal government was now able to usurp those states rights enumerated under the Constitution, redirecting income taxes collected from residents of one state to the benefit of residents of other states and to federal programs that in the past may have been entrusted to the actions of individual states.
The American liberal received another big boost with passage of a package of social programs entitled The New Deal. President Franklin D. Roosevelt I introduced the New Deal in 1933 in an attempt to reverse the economic downturn and provide for those in society having been adversely affected economically by the great depression following the stock market crash in 1929. This New Deal legislation placed restraints on the free market activities, allowed government to intervene in the economy, heavily increased taxes and increased the size of government. However, it took the sale of materials to our future allies and then later for our own use at home, and the tightening of the belts by those Americans supporting our troops, to bring the economy back to relatively normal.
During this period American conservatism developed adherents that did not approve of the New Deal and promoted the resurgence of a free-market economy. They continued in this pursuit and in the presidential election of 1964 conservative Republicans supported Barry Goldwater whose book The Conscience of a Conservative espoused the principles of conservatism. Although he lost the election conservative beliefs continued to be espoused and in 1980, Ronald Reagan a strong supporter of Goldwater, took over the conservative mantel, ran and won the Presidency. His call for patriotism, religious and moral values, as well as, strong opposition to high taxes, government controls, and federal spending was the motivation for his support by the majority of Americans.
With this background perhaps we have the foundation to simplify the meaning of the terms, as they apply to an individual American, with which we are dealing in the light of today´s world. Let´s try for definitions that can be easily understood after delineating and reviewing what has been stated heretofore.
Conservatism from the foregoing we find that this term conveys the following:
An ideal conservative believes in the importance of the individual person, including the fetus, and the family structure and that it is the responsibility for the individuals within each family to do as much as they can for themselves before asking for assistance. When assistance is needed the progressive route taken is community, city, county, state and federal, in that order, with the federal government the avenue of last resort. A conservative believes in the least government possible.
Liberalism from the foregoing we find that this term conveys the following:
An ideal liberal takes the completely opposite position to an ideal conservative, vying for a socialistic form of government working from the top down wherein the freedom of the individual is compromised for the anticipated good of the collective group.
Please note that these definitions do not include side issues such as abortion, gun control, immigration, campaign reform etc. Conservatives and liberals may have similar positions without compromising their respective ideal ideology.
In summation, the fundamental difference between a liberal and conservative is whether an individual is allowed the freedom, with attendant responsibility, to freely function in society or whether an individual´s interests are subservient to the collective interest of the members of society. One must either be one or the other because once the collective interest takes precedence an individual´s freedom is compromised, then it just becomes a matter of degree as to the extent. A liberal who compromises his ideal ideology may consider himself a moderate liberal but is still a liberal. It is difficult for a conservative to be a moderate conservative because any compromise involves usurping individual freedom and attendant personal responsibility and this would then tend to define him as a moderate liberal.
Now, are you liberal or conservative?
To comment on this article or express your opinion directly to the author, you are invited to e-mail Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org .
I am somewhere to the right of Barry Goldwater, slightly to the left of Attila the Hun.
"The Rules don't apply to me."
Congratulations. You are now a Liberal.
Well no, it doesn't. Faith and tradition are leftwing values? Looking at the WOD through the lens of supporting societal interests over rights of the individual is also not a liberal trait. I don't know what this author is smoking, but I'm having none of it.
Oh, well, at least Starmaker didn't post the article in all bold text. That was refreshing.
*** Translation - these labels don't mean anything ***
I really love that sentence.It drives my Lib. Associates Crazy,when I say things like that.I've been called Uncompassionate, Rude, Harsh,Nazi,Uncaring,Filthy Republican-----all of which are completely laughable.I think you have to attempt to try and get a job.Noone should be able to receive benefits (those are partly MY tax dollars you know)w/out trying,and a hearty attempt at that,and more than once.Hell,in the real world Nothing is Free.You have to EARN IT!
I am philosophically a classical liberal, although a social conservative when it comes to family issues (which are not the province of government anyway). This places me in the far right of the American political spectrum, although I still have strong disagreements with most American "conservatives" on many social and economic issues.
That is so uncompassionate saying we have to eat our bread by the sweat of our brow! After all, we know that the government can just print more money to give to the lazy--I mean misfortunate.
Conservatism from the foregoing we find that this term conveys the following:
Using the above definition, is President Bush a conservative?
Believing something and putting it into practice are two different things.
A free market and the personal acquisition of property by individuals:
Individual freedoms and property rights are representative of attendant moral, religious, political, and civil rights:
In accordance with the Constitution, the federal government is limited to acting in those areas wherein the states themselves do not have that ability, in inter-state matters and in foreign relations:
$26.5 billion increase in education spending?
There is great importance placed on separation of powers, judicial review, and states' rights as opposed to federal power:
You have to believe the AIDS virus is spread by a lack of funding.
You have to believe that the same public school teacher who can't teach 4th graders how to read, is qualified to teach those same kids about sex.
You have to believe that trial lawyers are selfless heroes and doctors are overpaid.
You have to believe that guns in the hands of law-abiding Americans are more of a threat than nuclear weapons in the hands of Chinese communists.
You have to believe that global temperatures are less affected by cyclical, documented changes in the brilliance of the sun, and more affected by yuppies driving SUVs.
You have to believe that gender roles are artificial but being gay is natural.
You have to believe that businesses create oppression and governments create prosperity.
You have to believe that hunters don't care about nature, but pasty, revisionist activists who've never been outside Seattle do.
You have to believe that self esteem is more important than actually doing something to earn it.
You have to believe there was no art before federal funding.
You have to believe there was no housing before HUD.
You have to believe the military, not corrupt politicians, start wars.
You have to believe the free market that gives us 500+ channels, can't deliver the quality that PBS does.
You have to believe that without a federal Department of Energy, there would be no gasoline or electricity.
You have to believe the NRA is bad, because they stand up for all of the Constitution, while the ACLU is good, because they stand up for a few parts of the Constitution.
You have to believe that taxes are too low but ATM fees are too high.
You have to believe that Harriet Tubman, Cesar Chavez, and Gloria Steinem are more important to American history than George Washington, General Robert E. Lee or Thomas A. Edison.
You have to believe that standardized tests are racist, but racial quotas and set-asides aren't.
You have to believe second-hand smoke is more dangerous than anthrax or sarin gas.
You have to believe Rosie O'Donnell is brilliant.
You have to believe that the only reason socialism hasn't worked anywhere it's been tried is because the right people haven't been in charge.
Liberals have faith in government, and seek to strengthen it.
There is also a group of people who identify themselves as conservatives, but seek to use the force of government to institute morality. Is this consistent with a definition where a conservative seeks to have the minimum government intervention? Or do these people fit somewhere outside the conservative spectrum? Or is the definition wrong?
Moreover, there are some people who seek to relegate all these issues to the individual states, and let each state decide for itself. What are these people called? Is there a difference between a federal action and THE SAME action at the state level?
What in the hell are moral, religious and political rights? The author just invented a concept as to negate natural rights. Pretty typical of those who call themselves "liberals" amd "conservatives".
Well, that may or may not have been a decent 1960's definition, but it won't fly today.
I am always distressed by how many conservatives define conservatism as some sort of sheeple-like obedience to the "law" or the "rules". Conservatism is about standing on a set of PRINCIPALS. Laws and rules (especially today) often run counter to conservative principals.
I don't know about anyone else, but I have not been in a coma for the last 3 decades. The precious rules that you define conservatism as a blind obedience to are no longer, for the most part, moral or constitutional. They are made by anti-freedom, anti-American, counter-culture interests.
So yes, as a conservative, I can proudly say that sometimes, the rules don't apply to me either.
When does conservatism stop being defind as blind obedience in your eyes?