Liberalism and Conservatism Share the Same Goals, But Have a Different Approach to Reach Them

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Americans in the United States believe that we are entitled to freedom, low-poverty, less-crime, and overall prosperity, yet, how do we reach these very important aspects of humanity? The answers to achieve these qualities of one nation are nebulous. In fact, some of the most important questions politicians coin may never get answered with set solutions. Though, as politicians search for the answers to the tough political questions, it’s important, in the meantime, to evaluate the two ends of the United States’ political spectrum – Conservatism and Liberalism. The “left” Liberals and “right” Conservatives have become larger than life political entities within themselves, and, more times than not, citizens and politicians of the United States tend to lean towards one side or the other. Neither left, nor right has all of the correct answers to the United States’ political, economic, social, and interventionist problems; however, it’s important to gage the significant catalytic reasons as to why Conservatism and Liberalism have changed and effected the United States over time. Thus, it is essential to analyze the factors separating the left side from the right, while still keeping in mind that modern Liberalism and modern Conservatism derives from early Liberal philosophy.

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Although traditional Liberal thought has influenced Liberalism and Conservatism, since the late eighteenth, early nineteenth century, Liberalism and Conservatism have changed and transformed into what we now refer to as the modern thoughts of Liberalism and Conservatism. Classic Liberalism was the main approach by the founding fathers in the initial practicalities of the United States. This belief based on liberty is reflected across the Federalism Papers, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and many other documents in traditional American history (Lakhana 93). In the nineteenth century, classical Liberalism was at its peak with economic success, political liberty, and relative international peace at the forefronts of American society; yet, the twentieth century – a time of depression, war, and dictatorship – rejected classical Liberal practices. However, the best of classical Liberalism endured and lives through the ideas of modern Liberalism and modern Conservatism (Lakhana 100). With modern Liberalism, the defense of civil liberties has survived from classical Liberalism. Moreover, modern Conservatism gets its defense of economic liberties from classical Liberalism.

It’s necessary to first consider Conservatism’s central principles based on its four main conceptual foundations: traditionalism, neo-conservatism, libertarian, and religious right. Being a Conservative involves implementing the combination of these four themes on the most basic level. Beginning with traditionalism, Conservatives fully indulge in the idea of history and customary culture (Ceaser 2). Stemming from the American Revolution, early colonists breaking from the British regime brought along original traditionalist ideas. From a traditionalist standpoint, history and culture remain to be strongpoints in Conservative theory because history and culture cannot be made up; furthermore, traditionalists prefer what “grows in politics” – the surrounding culture – to “what is made” in politics (Ceaser 2). Neo-Conservatives’ foundational concept is based on natural right and is guided by the wisdom of reason in what’s naturally right and naturally wrong. In addition, most Conservatives take libertarian ideals into account both politically and economically. Libertarians believe that things ultimately work themselves out, thus, portraying Adam Smith’s economic concept of the “Invisible Hand.” Letting problems work themselves out conveys the Conservative philosophy of less governmental intervention. This libertarian principle known as spontaneous order “governs international relations, where many libertarians favor isolationist policies on the premise that order does not need to be enforced or guaranteed by a great power (America), but tends to emerge on its own” (Ceaser 3). Practiced by Conservatives, the concept of spontaneous order tends to idolize isolationism, the economic “invisible hand,” and less political intervention. Finally, religious right remains to be one of the most rightward principles in the basis of Conservatism. Although Conservatives realize Americans are free to believe in whatever faith they choose to practice, they still feel as though there’s some sort of biblical faith backing this nation. Conservatives refer to their religious beliefs in politics as the second and unwritten Constitution that operates and regulates alongside the legal Constitution (Ceaser 4). These four main foundational concepts guide Conservative belief, but do not coincide with Liberalism’s principles.

To be Liberal does not necessarily mean to be the complete opposite of Conservative, but to accept a more catalytic way in instituting governmental policy according to relativism. Liberals tend to believe that the central role of the government is to make sure that no one is in need. It’s not that the Conservatives want others to be in need, in fact, it’s the exact opposite; however, unlike Conservatives, Liberals prefer to utilize more of a multi-cultural relative way of seeing not just America, but the entire world as we transition towards modern globalization (Ceaser 4). Liberals oppose traditionalist viewpoints because traditionalists tend to take pride in American culture simply because it is their own. Liberals feel as though cultural pride doesn’t constitute any justification as to why it’s right to necessarily view other cultures as inferior to American culture. Furthermore, Liberals support humanitarianism and compassion when speaking in opposition to neo-conservatism. Liberals realize that there is no standard of what’s naturally right and what’s naturally wrong, and instead, sympathize in the concern of others. In fact, neo-conservatives often fear that Liberal cultural relativism could lead to something similar to the Cold War or the modern day War on Terror (Ceaser 5). As a Liberal, it’s necessary to believe in Big Government and governmental interventionism in order to build a better infrastructural system and help those in need. Most importantly, Liberals decline the idea of a “wall of separation” based around religious secularism. Being secular, politically, means to separate the beliefs of religion and the state, which is one of the most important differences in the foundational practices of Liberalism.

After it’s transition from classical Liberalism, the sect of modern Liberalism has changed many of its main socio-economic viewpoints and political positions internally and externally. According to Dr. Jim L. Riley of Regis University, “Government was seen as a positive force in shaping human affairs and society…Liberalism had come to recognize that powerful institutions in society had to be controlled and regulated by the instrument of the people if true liberation was to occur.” In the early twentieth century, liberalism started to move its importance from defending individuals from unjust governments to using government as an expedient to enable individuals to achieve a more meaningful and rewarding life through the modern practice of civil liberties. Liberals of the twentieth century began to want to form labor unions for the purpose of collective bargaining. Liberals now feel as though government is the perfect medium between solving this nation’s rational problems on a societal level. On social and religious levels, original Liberal theory based many political decisions off of biblical reasoning, whereas, now, modern Liberal theorists argue for a separation of the church and state and rather focuses on humanity from a relative standpoint (Ceaser 6). Liberals, before the early twentieth century, hated the idea of women’s rights; yet, modern Liberals place a high emphasis on women’s rights and the destruction of misogyny. Many Americans turned towards modern Liberalism as a result of the economic distress prior to the New Deal.

Before the New Deal, the United States went through the most difficult economic depression in the nation’s history. During the New Deal era, however, Liberalism became an economic safeguard. Americans began to turn towards Liberalism because the New Deal protected workers’ rights, overlooked the generation of wealth, and instituted Hallmark measures such as the Securities Exchange Commission, the Emergency Banking Act of 1933, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to name a few (Jackson 32). Since 1966, Liberalism has shifted two different ways. The first is an alliance of the sub-dominant “who are joined by the shared goal of seeking a haven from market pressures as well as insulation from majoritarian moral and social norms that are often experienced as discriminatory.” This faction appealed to those in need of economic support, racial discriminatory provision, and low-waged workers. The second faction split into the contemporary Liberal coalition of highly educated voters (Jackson 33). Alongside these two new factions, modern Liberals shifted to a market system in which the government can regulate the economy the best. Furthermore, modern Liberals believe that the government has to protect citizens from big business in relation to public interest. Liberals support change in society and, while they like to be free from most government intervention politically, Liberals find that government intervention is necessary economically and socially. This transformation in Liberalism has ensued alongside Conservatism ideology.

Unlike Liberalism, Conservatism hasn’t changed as much, but instead has kept certain core concepts throughout its long ideological history since the transition from traditional Liberalism. Conservatism, especially in the coalition from 1936-1963 of citizens in the South, developed its ideology in reaction to the radicalism and rejection of Liberal movements. Conservatives admire themselves in not conforming to culture change, and, instead, regard authority, convention and tradition. Conservatives view changes in moral order as harmful to society. The same visions expressed by Burke have remained mostly constant throughout its ideological history. Conservatives take pride in their traditional beliefs backed by religion and feeling as though we’re all a part of something larger and more important than ourselves. Though, Conservatives have changed some things because of industrialization, technological innovations, and modernization. Economically, Conservatives prefer less government intervention and supply-side economics in response to economic peril (Michaels 55). Actually, Conservatives began to cry about “creeping socialism” against Liberalism in its want for more governmental control. Conservatives, socially, tend to turn their problems back to the basics of their faith in God, love of their country and family, self-discipline, hopes for a better future, and the sense of belonging (Michaels 66). Additionally, Conservatives prefer swift and harsh punishment for criminals, government protection of institutions to maintain traditional values, the removal of welfare programs, and, the expansiveness of military policies. Conservatives value isolationism, as they believe that foreign policy is all about doing what’s best for the home country in defense from foreign coercions. It’s quite obvious that, in almost every aspect, most Conservatives have remained constant and true to their core beliefs and traditions, much different than that of Liberalism.

While some of the views of both Liberalism and Conservatism are radical, my views stem from each side of the spectrum. I sincerely believe in social change. With the United States founded on strict religious policies, the nation is beginning to slowly transform. While I am religious, it is, in my opinion, that everyone should be able to marry who he or she wants regardless of tradition, thus, taking more of a Liberal approach. I’m quite ambivalent when it comes to economic endeavors because the Conservative view of cutting taxes to stimulate the economy seems appealing, yet, at times, letting the economy work itself out through the invisible hand method is an attractive approach as well. Politically, neo-conservatism sometimes, to me at least, appears to be a good method to follow, but every political situation is different. And as for foreign policy, I’m also indifferent because while I believe that Liberals are correct in thinking it’s okay to help others in need, I also think that isolationism prevents this nation from making unnecessary foreign enemies. Although I, overall, tend to lean towards the left, I’m certainly not in the position to declare myself one or the other.

Though Liberalism and Conservatism have stemmed from traditional Liberal thought, each ideology is quite different with one focused on revolutionary change and the other on core tradition backed by an unwritten religious constitution. Each ideology has its own views on what’s right and what’s wrong, but ultimately, neither is perfect. Both Conservatives and Liberals have flaws that hinder the public socially, economically, politically, and externally, but with an obtuse combination of each, it’s possible to make better decisions under one nation. While I am personally indifferent about which side I prefer, I tend to lean more towards the Liberal side because I, like the Liberals, feel as though social change should be promoted accordingly. Both ideologies have something to offer this nation and it’s a fact that without Liberalism we wouldn’t have Conservatism and vice versa.

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