Sunday, March 23, 2008

Liberals vs Conservatives

Liberals (and there are far too few of them around any more) are distinguished by a world view more than a stand on a particular issue. Liberals tend to believe that if you offer people opportunity, that they will make something good of it.

Conservatives are more interested in preventing change to the existing power structure. I don't mean this in a feudal, or in a Panglossian way. Instead, conservatives feel that things really aren't so bad the way they are, and most changes would tend to make things worse.

As I commented in an earlier post, this may mean that in a society that values social mobility and churn, these two values may not necessarily be in conflict. (For example, the microcredit lending institutions in the third world provide people with an opportunity to create a small business while also requiring a level of responsibility and initiative. Arguably, these institutions represent the best of both liberal and conservative thought as they exist in the USA.)

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who use "conservatism" as a way to protect their own interests or to disadvantage their opponents. Conservatives today are making the same mistake that liberals made in the 1970s--they are seeking to stomp out dissent. If a political movement is to remain vibrant, it has to permit a certain level of disagreement in order to prevent its ideas from becoming stale, or to prevent the movement from being hijacked by extremist partisans of one type or another.