What does it mean to be a Liberal or a Conservative?

Think for Yourself


 Last week, I said that using this column to teach a class would be boring, but I do not want to leave the topic of political terms too quickly. After reading this series, you should have the background to understand why I say things that I say. I want to provide a sound footing for the conversations and considerations this column inspires.

Just as the terms Left and Right have become practically meaningless today, the terms Liberal and Conservative are currently used to describe political beliefs far from the ideas they represented initially. Political liberalism is the belief that individual freedom is the primary objective and that limited and restrained government is necessary to protect liberty. Liberals were people who wanted little government restraint of personal freedom and who believed that a government too large or with too much authority was a dangerous thing. The classical definition of a Liberal was someone who championed liberalism. Today, the term has come to describe any member of the Democratic Party despite their political beliefs. Socialists, Communists, Fascists, Racists, Theocracies, Woke Culture, and all other political views that stifle individual liberty directly oppose traditional liberal ideas. The Democratic Party, which most usually supports the increased size and scope of government control, has somehow become synonymous with the term liberal. This term originally meant someone who believed in a small government.

Political conservatism originally described a belief in decentralizing political power and minimal foreign activism. Conservatives generally supported traditional views and opposed legislative or publicly funded attempts to force social change. While not a party founder, Abraham Lincoln is often called the “Father of the Republican Party.” Considering Lincoln’s views on slavery and consolidating power in the federal government, it would be hard to describe him as a “Conservative.” On the other hand, Lincoln wasn’t exactly a “Liberal” either. That is because liberals and conservatives are traditionally not necessarily opposites. They each described specific political beliefs. Social Conservatives (the Religious Right), Isolationists, Traditionalists, Economic Conservatives (Capitalist Free traders), and Jeffersonian Republicans (who favored a decentralized government) are examples of classic conservatives. Many Republicans espouse support for economic conservatism, while others are social conservatives. This alliance has led to all members and supporters of the Republican Party being mistakenly labelled conservatives despite their actual political beliefs.

Thomas Jefferson was a liberal and a conservative. His party, the Democratic-Republican Party, became today’s Democratic Party, but its original views are more closely associated with the views of today’s Republican Party. Maybe that is why, despite their differences and adversarial relationship, the Democratic and Republican parties behave so similarly. It is confounding that individuals claim membership in or support for a party without knowing the platform or history. Add to that the ambiguous nature of today’s political terms, and it becomes easy to understand why rational people can have irrational debates and disagreements. Today, we have big government liberals and foreign activist conservatives. We treat “liberal” and “conservative” like opposing terms. The truth is that many of our Founding Fathers were both.

When I disagree with the Democratic or Republican parties, I can enumerate those differences. I oppose governmental social engineering, legislating religious morality, most foreign aid, most foreign military intervention, providing health care as a right, unlimited free trade, restrictions on speech, unlimited abortion, a complete ban on abortion, unregulated immigration, and unreasonable restrictions on immigration. I could continue, but you get the point. I have voted for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. I have never agreed entirely with any politician, and I don’t owe any party my allegiance. Why would we ever support something without complete understanding? We should all support or oppose ideas, not parties and labels. We should evaluate politicians by their positions, not their party. We should also hold them accountable for their actions. If we ignore labels and speak plainly, we can make a difference, but you must think for yourself!


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