Further thoughts on

Liberal/Conservative Definitions

I recently thought of and aquired some new definitions. Thes are from a discussion forum on GEnie which I started. They may be a bit biased.

Me: Liberals give first priority to larger communities, including the whole world, sometimes to the point of Socialism or Communism. Or to put it another way, we all put "our own" interests first, but liberals take a broader and longer-term view.

Me: Conservatives give first priority to their own interests, and those of their gene pool and small community. They depends on Adam Smith's "invisible hand" or "What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA" (from the Li'l Abner cartoons strip and movie) to answer the needs of society, an extension of "the law of the jungle".

Me: A liberal says, "No man is an island; no man stands alone." A conservative says, "What I do is none of your business."

Me: A "bleeding heart" liberal is one who is overly concerned (in the view of the speaker) for one category of person, animal etc., perhaps at a cost to others, including the speaker. (Then is an anti-abortionist, at least to some, a bleeding heart conservative?)

"What a liberal stands for is PROGRESS - moral progress, economic progress, and social progress for all. A liberal is optimistic. A liberal doesn't demand control of others."

"The Classic definition is that Liberals like to change things and Conservatives don't. "Liberal" is derived from "liberty," and when things were "changed" way back when it was from the Monarchy to more democratic forms of governance."

"The "generally accepted" definition is that conservatives want smaller central governments and more individual liberty, while liberals want government to "do more," and individual liberty suffers (as an unintended result)."

"The real problematical definition is the "current usage" one. Remember that in Russia, the Communists are the conservatives, and those who support individual liberty and free markets are the "liberals." The opposite, of course, is true here, resulting in the strange situation in which the "conservatives" (i.e. Republicans) are trying to change government in the direction of more individual liberty, while the liberals (i.e. Democrats) defend the status quo!"

" A conservative could be defined as one who stands for preservation of what is good in society, who wishes to protect liberty and the American way of life. A liberal doesn't want to control others? Then who are those people who want to take my guns away, who want to stick me with ridiculous speed limits on the interstate, and who want to tax me to death to support those who are too lazy to work for a living?"

"A definition I once heard involved a tree with a rotten limb. The conservative wants to wait and see if the tree will heal itself. The liberal wants to saw off the limb. The radical wants to chop down the tree and plant a new one."

"A conservative government is an organized hypocrisy." Benjamin Disraeli

"A conservative is a man who is too cowardly to fight, and too fat to run." Elbert Hubbard

"A conservative is a man who sits and thinks. Mostly sits." Woodrow Wilson

"Conservative: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils." Ambrose Bierce

"What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?" Abraham Lincoln

"The conservative is a tame man." Henry David Thoreau

"The modern day (20th Century) interpretation of liberalism demands the control of the population. They need to control the schools for propaganda purposes, they need gun control to pacify the population, they need to tax to control the economy, in short they need to control all aspects of life in order to force their PROGRESS on the population."

"...to support those who are too lazy to work for a living."

"If you are trying to give a definition by example of what a conservative is you are doing a good job: intolerant, uncompassionate, and self-serving."

"Both conservatives and liberals have their own pet spending areas. Conservatives want much smaller government in the areas liberals favor, but vastly larger government in their own pet areas. Liberals would just as soon have smaller government in the areas conservatives favor, but vastly larger government in their own pet areas."

"For 16 years, the two sides have pretended to debate over a balanced budget. But the whole time, what they were really wrestling over was whose pet area the bulk of spending was going to target. Once in a while that would require that one side target the other's pet area for spending "cuts." But most of the time the two side's version of "compromise" was just to spend on both pet areas."

"Conservatives are trying to cut government & funds intended to prevent crime and increase government & funds to punish crime. They are trying to cut taxes on rich individuals, while trying to increase taxes on people who are not rich. They are trying to cut government & funds for environmental concerns, while trying to increase govenment & funds for the military establishment.Both parties defend the status quo; pathological lying about the size of government."

"Rather than defining the term, we might better talk in tendencies: Conservatives tend to emphasize the benefits of private action to solve economic social ills, while liberals tend to put more faith in government action. Conservatives tend to support traditional social mores, while liberals tend to be more accepting of modern trends in sexual morality. And the list could go on."

"The problem with such generalities and tendencies, though, is that many people don't fit neatly. Some have accused Pat Buchanan of being a liberal because of his opposition to free trade, for example. And some might consider pronouncements of the Catholic bishops to be very liberal on issues such as welfare and immigration, but they would fit the conservative label on abortion and sexual morality."

"A liberal doesn't demand control of others."

"Sure, we liberals do. We just demand it in different areas than the conservatives do. (Even libertarians don't mind people controlling others, as long as its someone other than the government doing the controlling.)"

"D.Robinson - You are using `liberal' and `conservative' in a personally defined modern sense that destroys the meaning of the terms."

Me: Oh dear, I guess that means I've eliminated these words from the English language, if I've destroyed their meanings. :)

Me: I wasn't intentionally using them at all, just asking for meanings, and giving examples.

"Is it not better to fit our terminology to reality, rather than attempt to stuff reality in to poorly conceived terminology?"

Me: So what "terminology" would you give to the reality of this spectrum, among many criss-crossing others?

"The "generally accepted" definition is that conservatives want smaller central governments and more individual liberty, while liberals want government to "do more," and individual liberty suffers (as an unintended result)."

"Remember that in Russia, the Communists are the conservatives, and those who support individual liberty and free markets are the "liberals." "

"This seems to mean that conservatives support the establishment, but not the government, and liberals the opposite. I usually think of "left" as synonymous with "liberal" etc., but not so in Russia I guess."

"The opposite, of course, is true here, resulting in the strange situation in which the "conservatives" (i.e. Republicans) are trying to change government in the direction of more individual liberty, while the liberals (i.e. Democrats) defend the status quo!"

Me: It depends on things like what time scale your "status quo" represents, the last twenty years or the last two hundred years, and what we mean by "progress".

Me: This kind of confusion is why I call myself an _independent_ liberal, so people won't be making too many wrong assumptions.

"Dan -- Your generalities make sense to me, but they're just generalities." That's me, a generalist, not a specialist. But look what these generalities got started here.

"The problem with such generalities and tendencies, though, is that many people don't fit neatly."

Me: To think of generalities as absolutes is obviously nonsense. There are "always" exceptions. Therefore without an adjective like "all", such labels and categories must be assumed to overlap and have to mean "on the average", or "relatively speaking".

"Centrist authoritarian governments that want to dictate or regulate every detail of the citizens business."

"Non-Centrist governments that want government closer to the People with freedom and self-responsibility given to the People without cumbersome regulation of an incompetent centrist authority."

Me: If only life was that simple, that black and white. I think we suffer from extremes at both ends, while more common realtiy is closer to the middle. Self-responsibility is great when it does the job. Part of the problem is that so few people recognise how poorly it's doing, and how we're headed for collapse of most centers of civilization.

Me: I see some sense in all definitions given here and I think we basically agree, though we express it in different ways. Do any of these admitted generalities make sense to you? Some are a bit contradictory, so the question is which ones make the most sense. What other definitions or correlations do you have?


Send me your thoughts.
Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org, Eugene, Oregon
My home page: http://www.efn.org/~danrob/ .