What Distinguishes Conservatives from Liberals?

Since I frequently allude to Conservative Republicans and Liberal Democrats I thought I’d define these terms as I see them.  Republicans have not always been Conservative and Democrats Liberal.  The Republican party was formed under Abraham Lincoln, quite a liberal person for his time, and conservative Democrats used to be dominated by deep southern politicians where slavery was an accepted practice.


A conservative person is one who resists change.  If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.  Conservatives like things just as they are and have been for ever as far as they know.  For them progress means learning new ways, something that they are very uncomfortable with and usually unwilling to try.  They tend to be fundamentalist Christians and take religious teachings quite literally with, as they interpret it, biblical-time values.  Conservatives tend to quote or refer to other authorities when arguing their case rather than argue the logical merits of the issue.

Political conservatism means to maintain the values and traditions of the founding fathers, as they understand it, regarding government.  They want a Federal government with very limited powers as existed in the 19th century.  They want the states to be far more autonomous to regulate themselves.  Under this system the Federal government would be extremely simple with a very limited budget.  Its biggest expense would be in maintaining a very strong military army whose use would be to protect the common interests of the country.  This is something that was not part of the original vision of many of our founding fathers as reflected in the Bill of Rights.  Never is a standing army mention, but a Militia was mentioned in the 2nd Amendment “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..”.  Only a Militia existed when this nation was founded.  Many people at that time feared the government having a strong standing army such as existed in Great Britain that could control the people.  Congress would have limited powers to control the states and would only enact laws that would enhance the ability of states to work together such as interstate commerce.  The president would have limited powers and would be largely symbolic in nature.  His power would be limited to enforcing federal laws and having veto power.  Conservatives believe that the economic success of businesses is the key to economic prosperity.  The Supreme Court would only rule on the constitutionality of federal laws as they felt the founders interpreted them at the time the Constitution was written.  They would like fundamentalist Christian values to be legislated into law, contrary to the separation of church and State stated in the 1st Amendment.  Anything that sounds like socialism is strongly akin to communism and not what a free Democracy should have.

States on the other-hand would have very strong regulatory and law making powers and economic budgets.  Most of the regulatory functions of the Federal government today would be done by each state or would not exist.  Under this system slavery could still exist in some states and civil rights as exist today may not exist in many states.


A liberal person is one who is open to new ideas and embraces improvements in life through change.  Why hang on to outdated ideas when you can improve on them through change?  Liberals are always on the search for things they believe will improve what exists.  They are compassionate about helping those most in need and leveraging off of government to help them achieve a higher standard of living.  They tend to be more intellectual and if religious tend to interpret religious teachings more figuratively with contemporary relevance.  Liberals tend to argue the logical and intellectual merits of an issue.

Political liberals tend to utilize the power of government to achieve equity among people.  Liberals believe in the broad powers of federal government to achieve uniform and just laws throughout the nation.  They believe in the need of a strong central government to achieve this.  They believe the Constitution to be a living document that is relevant to contemporary situations and values.  The Bill of Rights, especially the later amendments, is an example where the Constitution was later updated to encompass contemporary values and rights.  In general liberals believe in a limited arm forces to protect the homeland.  Federal funds should primarily be for domestic use.  They have a tendency to favor socialized programs and do not confuse socialism with communism.  They believe that big business tends to be abusive to employees and the environment in order to make more profits so these industries need to be strongly regulated to limit such abuses.  They believe the Supreme Court should decide the constitutionality of laws based on the assumption that the Constitution is a living document to be interpreted in a broader sense that should be more relevant to contemporary values.  They clearly recognize the necessity of the separation of church from state as briefly alluded to in the 1st Amendment.  They generally place a higher value on the lives of all living and breathing human beings as well as nature.

The definitions I have given above are rather the extreme of each characteristic.  Many if not most people are not the extreme and many are a combination of both characteristics.  But we are living in a more informed and faster changing world than ever before.  Due to dramatic scientific and technological advances our society is change at an ever increasing rate regardless of what people want.  Thus one must either learn to quickly adapt to change or quickly be left far behind.  Such things as smart phones, the information explosion on the web, and social networks are dominating our lives.  That is the inevitable trend of the future.  Many are attempting to fight this trend and cling on to fundamentalist religious values and conservative beliefs.  But the domination of technology and its associated social changes will eventually isolate these people and their numbers will eventually diminish.  We can no longer afford to be Conservative minded and live in an information vacuum.  This is not my wish but simply an observational prediction.  Conservatives may get their way in Congress today but in the long run the Liberals will dominate and get their way.  Look back on history and you will see the trends in social behaviors and moral values.  That is why conservatives are fighting so hard and are so extreme in their attempts to hang on to their principles to survive.

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2 Responses to What Distinguishes Conservatives from Liberals?

  1. Pingback: Hopelessly Poor in a Nation of Milk & Honey | ouR Social Conscience

  2. Pingback: Na-sayers and the Apathetic on Global Warming | ouR Social Conscience

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