As a self-avowed environmentalist, gay marriage supporter, pro-choice supporter and reader of The New Yorker, most people would call me a liberal. However, I would disagree with that label. To me, the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have become increasingly confused by the inaccurate nomenclature used by the media. What I will try to do is give you my opinion on what the terms mean, based on generalizations, and how exactly I would define myself.
The difference between liberals and conservatives has nothing to do with the traditional party lines that often divide each other. Furthermore, the tenets of liberalism such as secularism, egalitarianism and governmental control over some aspects of life, are the same values held by conservatives. If we exclude crazy populists, libertarians, the oxymoronic social conservatives, socialists and other sundry political extremists, we will see that the commonly cited schism between the two is a false dichotomy. That is not to say there is no difference between the two, but I would like to rephrase it so we can get a better understanding about what the terms mean. The notions of traditionalism and religiosity that often surround conservatism and the notions of pure freedom that surround liberalism are incorrect ascriptions to say the least. Here is what I think the main distinction is:
To me the difference can be boiled down to one principle idea, which many people fail to recognize, and that is the respective understandings of the qualities of human nature. As it is, liberals tend to believe in a mutable human nature, while conservatives see human nature as more static. Now you might be thinking, “How can that ever produce any of the differences we currently see?”
The answer is that this mode of perception drastically alters the way government interacts with its populace. The reason why conservatives tend to be more antagonistic toward pacifism, large government and socialistic policy has everything to do with this.
Conservatives, for lack of a better stereotype, see human nature as more cynical than liberals do. A chief component of this negativity, or realism as some would like to call it, is humanity’s intrinsic greed and violence. Liberals generally believe that greed, especially the sort favored by capitalism, and violence are social constructions that can be gotten rid of through social progressivism. This is why you often see diplomacy as the general policy of liberals while conservatives tend to see war as a chief consideration, albeit a last resort.
In addition to this, liberals tend to favor more governmental control and socialistic policies because they see that people can be incentivized to act for the general good will of the people. Liberals tend to be more sympathetic to communism for these reasons, while conservatives respond negatively because they see human greed as a perennial facet of all humanity that selfishly destroys all attempts to aid everybody for the good of the whole.
Another chief difference that follows from the more people-centeredness of liberals is their favoring of political correctness and hate crime laws. Conservatives view these as infringements of the very idea of democracy. They generally see political correctness as a denial of an individual’s right to free speech because he or she may offend someone. In addition to this, conservatives tend to view laws against hate crimes as a threat to the notion of true equality because if everybody is equal why do some groups get preferential treatment?
Obviously there are many differences that follow from this; the crux of the difference comes down to a fundamental notion of what constitutes human nature. As far as I’m concerned, after having thought about these issues since I had my first political thought at age 13 or so, I don’t feel like either label fits. Honestly, I agree more with anarchism but that is a horribly connotative notion and nobody is willing to give up their big houses and fine things. As it is, I vehemently disagree with both political labels. In the end though it really doesn’t matter. Corporations run elections. The only thing collegiate about the Electoral College is that it is about as dumb as a crappy state school. If voting did anything, especially for practical ideological reasons such as for liberal and conservative motivations, we would never have had the Bush years. I can guarantee you that.