Compare and Contrast Modern Conservatism and Modern Liberalism

Compare and Contrast Modern Conservatism and Modern Liberalism Modern liberalism and modern conservatism are both extremely centrist ideologies, “In fact, US conservatism comes out of classical liberalism so the modern versions of both ideologies share deep philosophical roots” (Guide, pg. 1). These roots date back to the 17th century, extending into the early 20th century. To fully understand American politics, it is a key to understand the dominant ideologies. It is also crucial to analyze the differences and similarities between these two ideologies.

This paper will first examine the origins and tenants of classical liberalism, an ideology in which both modern liberalism and modern conservatism evolved. It will later discuss the major principles and tenants governing both ideologies. Finally, it will analyze and contrast modern day conservatism and liberalism according the current environment of the present day. Understanding classical liberalism is essential to fully comprehend the ideals of modern liberalism and modern conservatism. Classical liberalism evolved from opposition to “divine rights of Kings” (PowerPoints, Classical Liberalism, pg.

). One of the core principles in the presumption in favor of liberty is the “Fundamental Liberal Principal” (Guide, pg. 3). This principal states that freedom is a basic right and that laws must be justified so as not to limit the freedom of citizens. To provide a modern day example of this, the Los Angeles Times recently published an article about an intoxicated man whose racist online post about Barack Obama in 2008 urged violence. A core decision by the U. S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the man’s conviction.

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He was initially found guilty two years ago but in the later ruling his blog was considered his right to free speech and not considered a legitimate threat to Barack Obama’s security. In this case, the law protected the rights of an individual over the security of a presidential candidate. In the past, liberals disagreed about the basic concept of liberty in terms of the role of government. There were two types of liberty, negative and positive. Negative liberty defines the role of government as ensuring that individuals do not obstruct another individual’s freedom without significant justification.

Therefore, it is important that we restrict government institutions from gaining too much control over individual freedom, “We must restrain institutions that may endanger liberty” (PowerPoints, Classical Liberalism, pg. 4). Conversely, positive freedom is when a person acts with one’s own convictions to pursue their own objectives, “a person is free only if she is self-directed or autonomous” (Guide, page 5). The concepts of liberty vary, as discussed above. A more critical division of liberty pertains to the place of private property and the market order.

Classical liberals from the 18th century to the present claimed that liberty and property are basically the same thing, “liberty and private property are intimately related” (Guide, pg. 8). Each individual should be able to run their business the way they see fit and are not really free unless allowed to do so. With the advent of industrialization, democratization, and economic upheaval modern day liberalism took root and evolved into a different definition of government versus liberty. The definition of modern liberalism came into play in the early 20th century when they began to question the private property based market.

The idea of “social justice or the welfare state” (Guide, pg. 9) rose from the economic downturns created by the great depression and World War II. These events spurred a new faith in government as a way to oversee economic conditions, “this was partly due to the experiences of the First World War, in which government attempts at economic planning seemed to succeed (Dewey, 1929: 551-60)” (Guide, pg. 9). Franklin D Roosevelt’s new deal was evidence of government being responsible “for ensuring the economic well-being of the nation and for providing basic material guarantees to citizens” (PowerPoints, Modern Liberalism, pg. ) for example, social security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance. Another factor that spurred the growth and development of this “new” liberalism, and most likely the most rudimentary, was “a growing conviction that, so far from being ‘the guardian of every other right’ (Ely, 1992: 26), property rights generated an unjust inequality of power that led to a less-than-equal liberty (typically, ‘positive liberty’) for the working class” (Guide, pg. 10).

This idea is closely related to American Liberalism today, in that it advocates civil and personal liberties with an indifference to private ownership. Another tenant of modern liberalism, taken from Rawls’ great work, “A Theory of Justice” published in 1971, “is that the ‘new liberalism’ has become focused on developing a theory of social justice” (Guide, pg. 10). This basic principle asserts that society should be structured so that social and economic inequalities give the greatest advantage to those who are the least well off.

This works on the principle of reciprocity so that no social group advances at the cost of another. Liberals also believe that it is essential for the government to protect citizens from events such as environmental derogation as a consequence of “injustices and failures of free-market capitalism” (PowerPoints, Modern Liberalism, pg. 2). Modern liberalism believes that government protection and action is necessary in achieving equality and equal opportunity for all, for example protecting civil liberties as well as individual human rights.

In terms of economics, Liberals tend to believe in a market system in which the government regulates the economy, as opposed to the above mentioned “free-market. ” Most modern liberals are associated with the Democratic Party, “because of its support for wide ranging welfare programs and government support of the public sector as well as tighter corporate regulations (PowerPoints, Modern Liberalism, pg. 2). Modern conservatism, on the other hand, came in to play when conservatives began to dislike government control in the economy.

In opposition from modern liberalism, modern conservatism favored and “embraced laissez-faire (free-market) economics” (PowerPoints, Modern Conservatism, pg. 1). In Russell Kirk’s, “Ten Conservative Principles,” he claims conservatism is, “a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order” (Guide, pg. 40). He first believes that for conservatives, there exists an everlasting moral order. He further states that there are two types of order, “the inner order of the soul and the outer order of the commonwealth” (Guide, pg. 1). Kirk has strong convictions that the 20th century world has suffered greatly due to a collapse of a belief in the moral order. Kirk further believes, “all social questions at heart, to be questions of private morality” (Guide, pg. 42). In addition, he believes that the conservative ideology is also strongly tied “to custom convention and continuity” (Guide, pg. 42). Conservatives believe that change should only take place when necessary and when necessary, it should be very gradual.

This is derived from Kirk’s idea, “that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time” (Guide, pg. 43). He feels that conservatives believe that freedom and property are closely linked and will create a more stable and productive country, an idea that is rooted in classical liberalism, “Economic leveling, conservatives maintain, is not economic progress” (Guide, pg. 45).

Another belief conservatives hold, is the belief in a “voluntary community” where decisions affecting the community are made locally by political or private parties and not by a centralized government authority. In regards to economics, conservatives believe in limiting or cutting back on government programs and lowering taxes on both individuals and corporations. They also feel that economic growth can only be achieved through deregulating industries. This attitude is reflected in conservative’s claim that global warming is non-existent and a hoax.

As Russell Kirk states in his, “Ten Conservative Principles,” “the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily” (Guide, pg. 45). This statement reflects conservatives desire to regulate policy and law through local communities and states rather than be controlled by a centralized federal government. In terms of foreign policy, “conservatives tend to favor strict definitions of national security before supporting military intervention” (PowerPoints, Modern Conservatism, pg. 3). Lastly, as liberals tend to be democrats, conservatives tend to be members of the Republican Party.

In today’s political arena, there are many examples of conservative versus liberal attitudes reflected in economic, social, and environmental affairs. Currently, our nation is facing a looming deficit and as of August 2nd the nation will no longer be able to pay its bills. In the past the solution to this problem has been to raise the debt ceiling. Most economist agree that if the United States fails to raise the debt ceiling by August 2nd there will be huge repercussions throughout the world, for example, the United State’s credit rating will be lowered and interest rates will by higher.

However, much debate surrounds this issue today, largely due to the fact that the federal deficit is at an all time record high and the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been declining. There is major controversy between the two parties as to how to achieve deficit reduction. Liberals want to accomplish this through a combination of taxation on the wealthy as well as spending cuts. While on the other hand, conservatives wish to cut public entitlements while leaving the present tax structure in place. Their slogan is “cut, cap, and balance” which has passed the House of Representatives but will surely die in the senate.

Their argument is that in this time of economic difficulty and high unemployment, increased taxation on the rich would limit the “job creators” ability to hire. Both share a desire to cut spending, the question lies in where. Another example where liberals and conservatives differ in their approach to economic problems is in their response to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency created for consumer protection in the financial area. This agency was created in response to the financial crisis of 2008 and designed to avoid a future financial debacle in the future.

Liberals say that this agency would regulate the financial industry to prevent “bad loans,” unfair bank charges, or outright fraud in our financial institutions. On the other hand, conservatives think that this agency is a totally unnecessary expansion of government that, with its regulations, will only get in the way of private industry and restrict access to credit for consumers. Once again this is an example of liberals favoring government regulation to protect society and conservatives stance that it interferes with personal enterprise.

Another act embroiled in controversy between the liberals and conservatives is the Healthcare Reform Act passed in 2010 by the Obama administration. The final bill, passed in the senate without a single republican vote, was still considered by many liberals to fall short of their expectations of universal healthcare. As Paul Krugman wrote in his Op-Ed piece, “Healthcare Reform Myths,” “compared with the Platonic ideal of reform, Obamacare comes up short. If the votes were there, I would much prefer to see Medicare for all” (Guide, pg. 2). In the same article, however, he stresses that it extends coverage to 34 million Americans who would otherwise be insured. In addition, he mentioned that the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that this bill will actually control costs and ultimately reduce expenditures for healthcare. Conservatives have made repealing Obama’s healthcare reform bill a cardinal objective of their election campaign. This healthcare act demonstrates liberals desire for social justice in wanting to provide equal access to ealth insurance for those with preexisting conditions and those who are uninsured. It also represents their desire for government to play a central role in the individual’s life. However, conservatives believe that government should stay out of private healthcare, even to the point where some far right conservatives advocate reducing even Medicare to a voucher system, depending on private insurance. The Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 is a prime example of a social affair that defined marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.

Under the terms of this act, same sex couples were not given the same benefits (social security, tax and health benefits) as heterosexual couples. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a repeal bill that would allow any couples married in the six states allowing same sex marriage to enjoy these benefits. From the conservative point of view, this issue is seen from a moral point of view and the extreme right wing views homosexuality as evil and unnatural.

Liberals on the other hand see it more as a civil rights issue where individuals should have the right to fully embrace their own personal freedom. The greatest difference between these two ideologies would be one coming from a moral standpoint as emphasized by Russell Kirk and the other more as a civil rights issue. Lastly, in regards to the environment, there is contrasting views on the restrictions enforced by the Clean Air Act of 1970, established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was established to regulate the wide spread air pollutants deemed harmful to the public.

Both conservatives and liberals espouse a platform for clean air and water. The differences lie in how they interpret this. Liberals want to enforce stricter regulations in their role to see government as a protector of society, “Liberals today believe that government must protect individuals from the inequities of modern society and correct the injustices and failures of “free-market” capitalism including environmental degradation” (PowerPoints, Modern Liberalism, pg. 2).

Conservatives, on the other hand, constantly lobby to lower the EPA standards to allow business to operate with less government regulation with regard to their pollutants. In regards to climate change, Liberals have a strong conviction that is based on scientific date whereas many conservatives deem it “junk science. ” Clearly, there are divisions aligning both conservative and liberals along their ideological party lines. However, to live in a democracy we must put aside our differences to find common ground so that we may succeed as a unified nation.

This is best said by John Dewey, in his “Creative Democracy- The Task Before Us (1939) that, “Democracy is the belief that even when needs and ends or consequences are different for each individual, the habit of amicable cooperation-which may include, as in sport, rivalry and competition- is itself a priceless addition to life” (Guide, pg. 38) and “to cooperate by giving differences a chance to show themselves because of the belief that the expression of difference is not only a right of the other persons but is a means of enriching one’s own life-experience, is inherent in the democratic personal way of life” (Guide, pg. 8). Although these two ideologies have many contrasting views, they are both working to achieve the same thing, what they feel is best for the country. When looking at both sides, it becomes evident that our nation is at its best when both sides, liberal and conservative, can listen to one another and work together towards a common goal of making this great country united and beneficial to all citizens.

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Compare and Contrast Modern Conservatism and Modern Liberalism. (2018, Jan 10). Retrieved from

Compare and Contrast Modern Conservatism and Modern Liberalism
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