Defining “Liberalism” and “Conservatism”

If I were to ask you, “What is a liberal?” you might say, liberals are wasteful, lazy, lascivious, gluttonous, arrogant, and envious. If I were to ask you, “What is a conservative?” you might say conservatives are greedy, miserly, callous, mean-spirited, angry, intolerant, and contemptuous. It simply depends on what side of the fence you sit. If I were to ask you, “Does either definition describe you?” most are going to answer, “No way!” That is because the modern definitions of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are a reflection of The Seven Deadly Sins, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.

So if, by popular definition, most of us are neither liberal nor conservative, what are we? To answer that question, I went to my faithful ‘43 Webster’s Dictionary and did a bit of research on what  is a ‘conservative’ and what is a ‘liberal.’

Conservative: Preservative; having power to preserve in a safe or entire state, or from loss, waste, or injury. One who saves. Respecting old institutions and methods, customs, and the like; not given to change merely for the sake of change; said of a person and their principles. Having the tendency to uphold existing civil and ecclesiastical institutions, and resist radical changes thereof.

Conservative antonyms and contrasts: Advanced, modern, progressive, radical, expansive, unconstrained, excessive, freewheeling, uncontrolled, unrestrained.

Liberal: Of or pertaining to a freeman (not a slave or vassal), befitting a freeman or noble. Of a free heart, free to give or bestow, munificent, bountiful, generous, giving largely. Generous, ample, large. Not selfish, narrow, bigoted or contracted. catholic (not the church, but meaning ‘universal’). Enlarged, embracing other interests than one’s own. General, extensive. Embracing literature and the sciences generally. Free. Not literal or strict. Not mean, not low in birth or mind. One who advocates greater freedom of thought or action.

Liberal antonyms and contrasts: close-fisted, miserly, niggardly, parsimonious, penurious, stingy, tight, tight-fisted, meager, scanty, rigid, rigorous, strict, stringent, dictatorial, reactionary, authoritarian.

My first observation is that the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ do not reflect the Seven Deadly Sins at all. In fact, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ seem a human reflection of The Seven Virtues, chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. It is actually the antonyms of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ that are The Seven Deadly Sins.

My second observation is that the terms ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are for the most part not mutually exclusive. Real liberals believe in charity, patience, and kindness. Real conservatives promote chastity, temperance, and diligence. Rather than being antithetical to one another, these virtues are meant to go hand in hand. Take your typical scholarship endowment for students. To be a sustained charity, one that promotes education, it must be conservatively managed. The far-left and the far-right, in their desire to divide us, have misled us all. It is entirely possible to be both a staunch liberal and staunch conservative at the same time.

My third observation is that our society is losing its ability to individually and collectively judge the difference between virtue and vice, and that is why we have allowed the popular perception of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ to become antithetical to their real definitions. Open-mindedness is not unrestrained permissiveness. Financial restraint is not the open pursuit of mammon. For instance, the public education system claims to be a bastion of liberal thought, and is run by people who believe they are progressive liberals. Yet one of liberalism’s fundamental tenets is the value of education, and our current public education system absolutely fails to educate America’s youth. Public education simply cannot be liberal for it fails to educate, and whatever ideology its leaders adhere to, it simply cannot be liberalism.

Our many captains of industry claim to be conservative, yet their greed is unrestrained to the detriment of a sustained, healthy society. They hire the sweat of honest men and take the lion’s share. They lie, cheat, steal, and bribe in order to enrich themselves. They use their power to manipulate and corrupt our system of capitalism to afford themselves an extraordinarily liberal piece of the economic pie. Real conservatives embrace restraint and the traditional rule of law, not it’s manipulation to satisfy unrestrained greed. Whatever these people are, they are not conservative.

If ordinary folk, like you and I, simply start thinking for ourselves instead of letting voices from the left and right think for us, we might find out that we do not really care for either of their positions. We might find that we are generally sensible, and that we agree on far more than we disagree. When I started writing this essay, I considered myself a staunch conservative because I work hard, do not waste my money and never spend more than I earn. I value education, value life, and want our public resources sensibly managed. I believe that children deserve both a mother and a father who are married and decent folks, and I believe that recreational drug use, whether addiction is present or not, poses a danger to the user and to society.  Now that I am at the end, less than 900 words later, I have come the chagrined conclusion that I am also liberal. What now?

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