Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Meaning of the Terms "Conservative" and "Liberal"

There's a reason why terms like 'conservative' and 'liberal' sometimes serve to confuse political discussions. It's because those words are adjectives -- another word for adjective is a "noun modifier." In other words, nothing is conservative or liberal in and of itself, but with respect to something that can be conserved or loosened. Let's look at the terms:

Conserve: to conserve, restrain, hold back, maintain, preserve, hold fast to, etc.

Liberally: profusely; Liberate: to loosen, set free, relinquish control over, etc.

From what I remember, the Founders made a distinction between the concepts of "freedom" and "liberty." The short summary is this: total individual freedom, a 'state of nature,' is not true freedom at all because it's unstable. The strong eventually conquer the weak and impose their own rules. By contrast, liberty is freedom with some minimal, reasonable restrictions on the individual, that makes society safe for individuals to exercise their freedom, enabling them to be more free than they would be otherwise, without those restrictions.

Back on topic: Conservatives wish to conserve something, but Liberals wish to relax, or be free from those things. But what is that thing?

This is where I wish to make an important point. Conservatism and Liberalism mean different things in different countries, because their different histories, by definition, mean that that which would be conserved varies based on the established historical culture of those places.

That's why, in Iran, conservatism means Shia Islam. In Saudi Arabia, it's Wahhabi Islam. In Spain and Italy, it's Roman Catholicism. In the US, it's Protestant Christianity. In the UK, "conservatism" is just slightly more pro-capitalist liberalism. In Russia, it's Communism, and in China, it's a mixture of that and, religiously, ancestor-worship is the traditional spiritual belief. So on and so forth.

The US differs from the UK, despite their common language and some similar facets of culture. While they have a similar theological history, their political culture is very distinct. The UK was a Constitutional Monarchy since the good old days when King John signed the Magna Carta. It still is, but the monarchy is much weakened in its power. The US, on the other hand, has never had a king. It has always been a mixture of a Republic (leaders decide the laws on behalf of the people) and a Democracy (the leaders are chosen by the people). The democratic aspect of this is deeply embedded in American society because of generations of asserting the ideal of individualism. In America, the political unit is the individual. This is in turn supported by the theological teachings of Christianity, which says that all people are made in God's image and are responsible for themselves.

American Conservatism, then, is extremely unique because no other country has over a hundred years of history at its foundation that supports the political position that says that every individual has the right and responsibility to make their own decisions, provided they are not immoral, without any other person interfering with their ability and prerogative to do so.

That's why Conservatism in the US can be boiled down to a single phrase, as far as it concerns the relationship between the individual and his government: personal responsibility.

This is the functional secular definition that most people on the political right conceive the term to mean. It's how come Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and even Atheists can be politically conservative -- and not just in name, but genuinely have many opinions in common with genuine conservative Christians.

To be more specific, however, American Conservatism, understood historically, means the maintaining of Biblical Christian principles in all areas of public and private life.

That's my working definition. It, once again, can be agreed to to an extent by people with other philosophies. "Biblical Christian principles," without the faith, are often borrowed by those with less internally consistent views, because of their inherent usefulness. That doesn't make them true, but because they are true, they are inherently worthwhile to pursue, in ways that are sometimes obvious and sometimes revealed after a time, and so atheists can often see the value in limited government, and Catholics can express strong convictions about the value of human life and the blessing of doing marriage God's way. In this way they are conservative in ways that Christian conservatives can agree with politically, but the ultimate reasons are different. The Christian is concerned with glorifying God, and does not get lost in secondary causes. We stand for what is right not because it seems practical, but because even if it does not, we trust that God knows best and we want to glorify Him by our obedience.


This is all to distinguish between holding political positions that are consistent with Biblically conservative Christianity, and being reborn by the Holy Spirit so that, as a natural outgrowth of your continuing sanctification, you follow God's principles from the heart.

The liberal view, meanwhile, would be, rather than maintaining those principles, loosening and/or abandoning those principles.


-W

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