In what ways do the major American isms, Conservatism and Liberalism, differ?
There are many theses written on the subject, but to leave Burke and Mill, the two classical definers of those two isms, out of it right now, for simplicity’s sake, they differ in terms of their approaches to social problems. Liberals see significant social problems and are willing to try new ways and programs to solve them. Conservatives want to go slowly, keep things pretty much as they are. Reactionaries, by the way, see the problems and want to go back to some previous methods for solving them. Now, Liberals often see the role of government is to deal with those problems. Conservatives often reject those because they cost money. Liberals don’t see the Free Enterprise system as working to solve those problems and Conservatives believe that free markets are the best way to do so. New programs often require additional taxes to fund new programs. Because of the inequality of wealth in our society, and with the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” widening, Liberals often suggest progressive taxes where the wealthier will pay more than the rest of the country. Conservatives, while generally against new taxes altogether, prefer regressive ones, like sales taxes. Liberals see the problems caused by untrammeled free markets and seek oversight and regulation for the most egregious of those abuses. Conservatives want as little regulation as possible. These then are some of the main ways Conservatives and Liberals are differentiated. But like most things, dichotomizing these differences is not fully satisfying. For example, Mill, the great grandfather, as it were, of modern Liberalism, stressed individual freedoms. A larger, more intrusive government would have been an anathema to him. Hence, modern Libertarians, with roots also in Mills’ camp, are generally against all government interventions and regulations. Of course, there are left-wing Libertarians, attracted by anti-foreign intervention policies of Ron Paul, the major Libertarian political figure, as well as right-wing Libertarians, who generally take a much more interventionist position than Paul. And on it goes.