Conservative vs. Liberal?

I often refer to myself as a centrist or moderate when it comes to politics, but it’s probably more accurate to say that I’m liberal on some things and a little conservative on others. Does this make me flighty or incongruent? I prefer to think not. I recall a few friends who have lived more on the extremes, feeling that I lacked clarity or conviction, just because I didn’t see things in clear ‘good and evil’ distinctions the way many ultras like to see issues.

I think back on a lecture that one of my grad school professors gave on the subject of what the words ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ meant. He argued that they really meant pretty-much nothing. One party has one list of agenda items, the other party has its own list. Students of history often note how the agendas can change over time. During the Civil War, the Republican Party was very much the anti-slavery party. 150 years later, they aren’t quite the champions of civil rights they once were.

My prof proposed his own definitions for the two words.
– The Liberal approach believes that human nature in generally good, and as people are granted freedoms to do whatever, they will most often behave positively and constructively. You see threads of this in both the ACLU and various libertarian philosophies.
– The Conservative approach recognizes that human nature can tend toward either good or evil. As we tend toward good, humans should be nurtured and opportunities opened, and as we tend toward evil, we should be constrained.

By these definitions, the modern Republican Party has become quite liberal when it comes to economic issues, and conservative when it comes social issues. The modern Democratic Party, in turn, does the opposite.

Just a thought … DonC


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