Liberal vs. Conservative?


As readers have probably already gathered clearly enough, I hardly fit into the left vs. right paradigm as the media world and talking heads of today would like me to, I am sure.

Let’s take a bit of a step back and see if we can get a bit of clarity in the midst of the Democrats vs. Republicans, liberals vs. conservatives framework that we’re supposed to fit into. Now, I will grant you, not all Democrats are liberal and not all Republicans are conservative, and to even suggest a correlation, which on some level certainly is true, ignores a vast number of nuances of the terms liberal and conservative that need to be addressed. I will not hit on them all here, but look for those in the coming blogs.

This post will merely deal with the basics, and to that end, a few quick summaries are in order.

What is a liberal? Well, in a strictly apolitical sense, to be liberal is to generally advocate change, advancement (whatever that looks like) and progress (again, whatever that looks like). In many respects, it is to go against the norm. In the United States, we often substitute the term progressive for liberal.

The broad description of the apolitical conservative, then, serves as the benchmark for what a liberal is. To be conservative is to adhere to what has been, to advocate tradition, to “conserve” the ways things are or have been.

Now, clearly these terms have far wider meanings that are hardly confined to their apolitical descriptions, but that basic understanding will be important to recall as I proceed through upcoming posts, and seems appropriate to deal with now before we proceed. In fact, modern day adherents to the fundamentals of libertarianism would once have been considered liberals, and I’ll make sure to clear up that odd change in the future.

Now, to get to our current, generalized understanding. Liberals (or progressives) are those who tend to desire a greater involvement of the state as regulator and enforcer of strict economic policy. They tend to favor higher redistribution of wealth from higher income earners to lower income earners, and generally higher taxes to that end. They tend to favor the enforcement of anti-discrimination law (in today’s society; this was the opposite until the 1960s). They tend to favor the relaxed regulation on what might be considered moral or ethical issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Much of their rhetoric is focused on ensuring “equality” – economically, socially, et cetera.

Conservatives, alternatively, tend to favor less government enforcement of economic policy, at least in rhetoric. They tend to favor lower redistribution of wealth, but maintain that it must, as a general rule, remain progressive (as opposed to flat, though that idea has gained tiny following). They tend to favor tighter regulation of what might be considered moral or ethical issues. And much of their rhetoric is focused on ensuring “fiscal responsibility” and “a fair playing field.”

Two reactions can immediately result from these summaries:

First, there are far more stereotypes that can made and that I abuse both groups by their exclusion.

Second, that I abuse both groups simply by attempting to force them into stereotypical boxes.

Liberals will jump up and say, “We are about helping the poor and middle class, whereas all the conservatives want to do is make the rich richer!”

Conservatives will likewise react, “You forgot to mention our insistence that we maintain our military strength instead of the way liberals undermine our national sovereignty!”

Either abuse, it makes no difference to me, and that is exactly my point. I feel more obligated than desirous to try and create some relative similarities with the current understanding of each group.

It is not that these generalities are not altogether without merit, but that the media and establishment information-promulgators all around us try to force us into a framework that understands politics within it. Well, I won’t have it. I get that part out of the way so that I can readily move on. But that’s for the next post.


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