Can Liberalism and Conservatism be summed up thusly?

Apologies for the crudeness of this, I have good reason…

A truly liberal person wants things to be better for as many people as possible regardless of himself.

A truly conservative person wants things to be better for the few that have worked hard for it, and the rest get what they deserve.

To take it one step further… A liberal wants all things to be perfect for everyone. A conservative wants all things to be perfect for himself.

I am of the opinion that if we live in a world where all things are roughly the same for everyone then chances are that things are pretty darn good for myself. I reckon I am of the opinion that I am more than capable of creating a life for myself that is full of riches and pleasure, but I would rather live in a society where the most amount of people enjoy the fruits and there are no people with more money than they can use to enjoy themselves.

No, I don’t agree.

As I see it, liberals believe the government is an appropriate tool for necessary social change, especially when it comes to guaranteeing fair play in the different aspects of life.

Conservatives have no problem with fair play, but do believe that government involvement should be kept to a minimum, because over-involvement prevents fair play.

It’s possible to see good and bad on both sides, and political philosophies do not determine character.

I would postulate that a liberal wants the government to be less concerned with what people do in their private lives and to be more concerned with what businesses are doing.

I would postulate that a conservative wants the government to be more concerned with what people do in their private lives and to be less concerned with what businesses are doing.


But I personally like how George Lakoff draws the line: Conservatives put values before people; liberals put people before values.

Well. Yes and No. Isn’t the assumption there that values are across the board. Because although there is crossover I’m not convinced that liberals and conservatives could agree on what constitutes values. At least not completely


“Liberal” and “Conservative” are not even necessarily competing ideologies. The terms are extremely loaded and can mean almost anything you want them to mean. What you’re describing as “liberal” is often referred to as being “progressive,” and “liberal” originally meant the belief in maximization of liberty.

“Conservative” can mean right wing politics of varying stripes. But it literally also means a poilitical position of not wanting to change things from their current state, or wanting to change only slowly and carefully. So, in a given political climate, is is entirely possible a person could be a liberal conservative.

For instance, a Canadian who opposes changes to the current single-payer national health insurance system is taking up a conservative position, even though when it was created the system was a progessive concept implemented by the Liberal Party. In fact, in respect to this issue, the Conservative Party of Canada is slightly liberal, while the Liberal Party of Canada is firmly conservative. They are even further apart in the issue of Senate reform, where the Conservatives are radically progressive and the Liberals are almost reactionally conservative. But in terms of criminal law the Conservatives are reactionary and the Liberals moderate. In terms of municipal infrastructure support, the Conservatives are conservative and the Liberals are liberal.

Confusing, huh?

I would rephrase that as, “A liberal wants things to be mediocre for everyone. A conservative wants things to be awesome for those who are willing to work hard, and doesn’t feel responsible for those who choose not to strive for greatness.” :slight_smile:

To try to explain further…

And then you would end up with an impoverished society where nothing much was accomplished, because you would have taken away the incentive to try to be successful and hardworking.
People only work hard because they expect to be rewarded for it in some way.
If I lived in your ideal society, I would immediately drop out of medical school and become the biggest welfare queen in the world. Why shouldn’t I live off the tax money that poor saps like you would be putting into this system, if there is nothing for me to gain by working any harder than my neighbor does?

How come your liberal gets to go from “better regardless of self” to “perfect for everyone”? A more consistent summation would be “the liberal wants all things to be the same for everyone.”

In my world view the (american-style) conservative thinks that a person should reap the fruits to their labor. A liberal thinks that people should reap the fruits of everyone’s labor. I think you err in saying that cons think only of themselves and libs think of others. Cons (at least, ones like me) think that I get to reap what I sow but also you get to reap what you sow. Libs say we have to share.

Hey, this is the perfect thread for me to share a new on target and apt insight! Brace yourselves, y’all! :wink:

Ignoring the wonkiness of the Religious Right:
The left believes benefiting society benefits the individual.
The right believes benefiting the individual benefits society.

All of these are just aspects of certain conservative and liberal groups.
Here’s another one:
Liberals believe that all people are equal and that the rich in a free society somehow lucked out or don’t really deserve their money and should spread it back around the community. Liberal compliment: “I love how he rose up out of his impoverished neighborhood to become a billionaire, then spent his money giving the less fortunate in his community a chance.”

Conservatives believe that the rich in a free society exhibit superior values, skills, or motivation, naturally rise to the top, and deserve to keep their money. Conversely, the poor naturally sink to the bottom and should not be subsidized by the state. Conservative compliment: “I love how he rose up out of his impoverished neighborhood to become a billionaire; it just goes to show that, if he puts his mind to it, anyone can live the American Dream.”

This one, I believe is even more true and fundamental:
Liberals desire a less risky society: not many people are rich, but it’s very hard to be poor. Therefore, they want more taxes and social welfare.

Conservatives desire a more risky society: many people are rich, but if you screw up, then you become poor. Therefore, they want less taxes and social welfare.

I came to this conclusion after reading a post by a Danish (home of the highest taxes in the world) citizen on another forum who basically said that they have few rich people and few poor people and they like it that way. I personally would rather have a society where I have a shot at the top, but with no guarantee that am taken care of by the state if I fail.

Vox Imperatoris

Fiscally speaking, it has always seemed to me that liberals would rather see a society where everything is crappy for everyone (as is invariably the case when government tries to enforce ‘fairness’, ala the Soviet Union, East Germany, China, et al.) than to have a society where things are absolutely great for 5%, super for 20%, good for 60%, and with 15% poor and stuggling.

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to think that the system that works best for the most people is better.

Conservatives also feel that most of the people who have money or who make enough to live comfortably got there by dint of hard work for most of their lives. Many were conscientious students, paid attention in class and did their homework; worked hard when they got out into world; and either made it by being good, hard-working employees or by going into business for themselves, thereby putting a considerable amount of their money (oftentimes borrowed) at risk and working long, hard hours to make their business pay off.

They naturally resent efforts by liberals to take away money they have earned and give it to people who probably didn’t work so hard in school, didn’t do their homework, didn’t strive to get ahead in the workplace, and didn’t gamble money and put in lots of hard work to make it in a business of their own.

This resentment is called ‘selfishness’ by liberals, who want to take money away from these hard-working, productive types and give it to people who have chosen a way of life in which they’re just getting by, if that.

Also, conservatives know that there’s no such thing as “fair”, and when you try to make things ‘fair’ you only create unfairness of another kind.

We also believe that government is inherently wasteful, bureauocratic, inept and unresponsive; that it can’t do anything well or efficiently, and that it spends too much of the money it takes in simply operating and paying salaries, benefits and too many days off for its own bloated workforce.

Additionally, we’ve seen what happens when you have a society that tries to make everything ‘fair’ by doing away with privately owned business and corporations and having the government control everything. The communist societies of the last century are perfect examples of what is wrong with that approach, with government-assigned jobs, people standing in line for hours to get a loaf of bread, everyone living in tiny, cramped apartments, and drab, opressive lives for everyone.

And to us it seems this type of government is the logical conclusion of what liberals are evangelizing for when they gripe about small numbers of people having the most wealth, doing away with corporations, etc. (This is not to say that all or even most liberals are in favor of eliminating private enterprise. But some do and that’s worrisome enough.)

I’ll have to get into what I think conservatives believe is best socially some other time.

Starving Artist: While I believe you’re correct in stating the *results * of their ideals, that’s not an accurate characterization of what they want.

Vox Imperatoris

Great job, everyone. Let’s play the “Distort what the other side thinks” game. :rolleyes: (Although to be fair–a couple of people in this thread have made an effort to fairly characterize the opposition.)

IMHO, conservatives value negative liberty. That is, freedom from coercion. (Of course, I’m ignoring social conservatives.) Redistributive taxation, burdensome regulation, etc., are all coercive because they compel you to pay money or use your resources/capital in a way you don’t choose. Many conservatives are concerned about the well-being of the poor, but oppose coercive means of addressing this issue.

Liberalism can be seen in one of two ways. Liberals can either be seen as privileging welfare along side of liberty, and not allowing negative liberty to be a trump to welfare. But the way I prefer to see it is this: negative liberty is worthless without positive liberty (i.e., the means to act on your negative liberty). I may have the negative liberty to go to the doctor when I am sick, but if I can’t afford the doctor, then I don’t have the positive liberty, and my negative liberty is worthless. Thus, promoting negative liberty requires giving people the means to pursue their ends.

I am, of course, ignoring many complications on both sides, here. But the OP is looking for short summaries.

While I think I understand what you’re getting at with ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ liberty, you’d probably be better off using ‘opportunity’ and ‘means’.

I really hate that leftists (or progressives, gah the arrogance) stole a perfectly good word.

Also, trying to sum people’s beliefs up in one word is incredibly silly. Almost everyone has a huge raft of exceptions to their “philosophy”.

In a recent study of countries, the Danes scored the highest on the happiness scale. Americans were somewhere around 23rd place.

There are many ways to measure what being “at the top” means. Now homeless on the streets or sleeping in doorways. Low crime rates. High standard of living. Excellent health care available to all. No insurance payments. An exceptionally clean environment that citizens take pride in. Pride in craftmanship, pride in production and design, pride in a job well done.

And they do enjoy that five weeks of mandatory vacation.

The family that I lived with owned a store that was a block long and four stories tall. They sold antiques and hand made furniture. People as far away as Greenland worked for them.

They were pleased to live in a country with so much freedom and such satisfied countrymen.

Mebbe. I stole the terminology from Isaiah Berlin, in any case.

A fellow here named pestie once put it thus:

I always thought that was kinda inspired. (Note, I saved that quote circa 2005, and I’m bad with names. So I might be dredging up bad memories or opening up some a can of worms, completely by accident. If so…er, my bad.)

I’m not sure I agree with the OP’s summation. The two best quick and dirty ones I’ve found are:

  1. From The Simpsons:

DEMOCRATS: We can’t govern!
REPUBLICANS: We’re just plain evil!

  1. From I’m not sure where:
    Liberals are elected to make terrible mistakes. Conservatives are elected to ensure those mistakes never get corrected.

So,essentially what you’re saying is that liberals are selfless and conservatives are selfish? I don’t buy it. I’ve seen claims that conservatives give more (out of their own pockets) to charity than liberals do.

There are plenty of conservatives and liberals who genuinely want things to be better for everybody. They just differ on how that can be best accomplished.