Bruce Momjian

Conservatism & Liberalism

Most people think of the terms conservative and liberal in relation to political parties or public policy.  However, these terms have a much broader meaning.  By understanding this broader meaning, it is easier to understand the powerful concepts behind them.

Conservatism, and therefore conservatives, believe that man is fundamentally unchangeable, and by nature, evil.  To conservatives, there is nothing new under the sun.  What happens today has happened in the past.  Conservatives stick to proven strategies.  And because human nature is inherently evil, conservatives do not believe there can be any perfect solution or society.

Liberalism, and therefore liberals, believe that human nature is changeable, and hence perfectible.  They believe that a person's environment has a profound effect on their behavior.  Therefore, they believe new ideas may work today because people are different today.

Conservatism and liberalism are contrasted most dramatically at their extremes.  Conservatism, at its extreme, is fascism.  Liberalism, at its extreme, is socialism.  Fascism seeks to unite a nation under a single set of ideals, while socialism seeks to create a perfect society.

Conservatism and liberalism are also dramatically contrasted by their failures.  Conservatives resisted racial equality because inequality had always been practiced.  Liberals sought to eliminate poverty by dumping money into poor neighborhoods.  By improving people's surroundings, they felt people would improve.

Conservative or liberal?  Nature or nurture?  Fixed or malleable?  Evil or good?  The answers to these questions are not academic.  The answers dramatically affect how we view the world, and the people in it.