The Essence Of The Difference Between Conservatives And Liberals…And What To Do About It

In my 50+ years of existence, I have enjoyed observing people and trying to determine their motivations.  This avocation has led me to try to distill from those observations the differences between the approach to life and to problem solving between conservatives and liberals.  A recent two year stint at an Ivy League school has given me a satisfactory data set to contrast to my experiences from a lifetime in northwest Louisiana.

I want to emphasize that I am contrasting conservatives versus liberals, not Republicans versus Democrats.  There are examples of both liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats.  Also, most people base some of their life decisions on principles for living and some on personalities.  What I have tried to devise is a method for understanding how the general approaches of equally intelligent persons can be so consistently different.

I believe the essence of the difference between conservatives and liberals is this:  conservatives determine Principles by which they choose to live their lives and then conserve those principles, thus giving them the name of conservatives.  They then apply those principles to circumstances as they arise, and only after determining the solution do they concern themselves with the question of to whom the solution applies.  Liberals, on the other hand, have a view of how they want the world to be:  liberal and generous portions of health, peace and equal outcomes for everyone.  Hence the name, liberals.  They react to events by first identifying Who is involved, followed closely by labeling the groups into which the person fits.  Certain groups are to be controlled and others helped.  Liberals then determine the outcome they believe at the time should result, based on the person(s), groups and issues involved.  Liberals seek an equal spreading of good results to all people, regardless of deserve, and do not mind letting people of power, wealth or capacity pay for those results, if the group or person to be favored do not earn the results themselves.

Conservatism, I believe, is the more difficult path.  It requires, first, the effort to determine valid life principles from which to operate.  Without an upbringing rooted in faith in God, this is very difficult and is usually not achieved until later in life.  Once a valid set of life principles has been developed, conservatism requires the discipline to refer to and apply these valid life principles, even in tough situations.  There is a saying among lawyers, “Hard facts make bad law.”  This phrase means that when facts are such that applying existing law would give a harsh result, judges tend to ameliorate the result by a “refinement” that may give a desired result in the instant case but is bad law because the precedent it sets causes problems in later cases.  Conservatism, then, is both hard and can seem harsh, especially to those on the outside who are not intimately familiar with the issues and the basis of decisions.

So how does this play out in real life?  Does the theory stand in the crucible of reality?  Consider these examples: 

  1. A person gets turned down for a job, a loan, or loses their job. Conservatives base decisions about people on what the person has done – liberals base their decisions on what group(s) the person belongs to, i.e., what race, what gender, etc.  So, in this case, a conservative asks if the person deserved the job or the loan.  A liberal first asks whether the person losing the job or the loan belongs to a protected minority group.  If the person is a Caucasian male, their inquiry ends, but if it involves a protected minority, a different set of rules apply.
  2. An unborn child is killed in the womb of its mother.  Conservatives believe, in general, that an activity is either a crime or not, regardless of who commits it – liberals believe the activity may or may not be criminal, depending on who commits it.  For a conservative, the killing of the unborn child, if intentional, is murder.  For a liberal, the question of WHO again raises its head.  Thus, for a liberal, a robber who shoots a pregnant lady, killing her child, commits murder, whereas a doctor achieving the same result at the request of the mother has committed no crime.
  3. A group is created to advance one race relative to all others.  It creates and prints magazines, circulars and other propaganda to further the cause of its race.  For a conservative, the determination of whether this is right or wrong is centered on the Principles involved, that is, the legality of the effort.  As long as profanity is not allowed, nor is violence promulgated, by and large, the conservative will find no fault in the effort.  For a liberal, however, the question revolves around Who is doing it.  If African Americans have created the group, there is no problem, because the rules for them are very different than they are for, say, German Americans.

I could give more examples, but I hope you are now convinced of the difference in approaches I have observed.  Now, what do you do about it?

I have found that my discussions with liberals have taken a decidedly favorable turn, now that I understand they are well intentioned, but simply misguided.  If I gently point out how their set of rules is different for different people, and how those rules can cause unwanted results, they begin to wonder how they can re-shape their rules so that the same rules can be applied in all situations, regardless of who is involved.  I have actually gotten some phrases, such as, “OK, let me think some more on that,” and , “I see what you mean.”  These seem like small victories, but enough of them can make a difference.

Please allow me to make three more points.

  1. Conservatives believe absolutes exist – liberals are more comfortable with situational ethics.  I believe this is because the situation discloses Who is involved, and thus the situation controls which set of rules the liberal will apply.
  2. Conservatives want proof before they change their principles, and thus are slow to change – liberals do not use principles in the same way, so they can more easily change them and are quicker to adapt to the “latest” idea.  
  3. Conservatives believe respect for institutions and authority are appropriate – liberals believe institutions and rules (even the institutions that protect their freedoms and right to personal expression, such as the military) are old fashioned and have a presumption they should be changed, radically, immediately.

I ask you to join me, by taking the following steps:

  1. Confirm your own principles by which to live your own life.  If you want help in forming these principles, I recommend you consult the Bible.
  2. Look for opportunities to gently open political discussions when you hear a misled person.
  3. Understand how the liberal is analyzing the situation, by looking first to Who is involved, and to what classes they belong.
  4. Show how the rules the liberal is applying to the situation could change, depending on who is involved.
  5. Gently encourage the liberal to consider principles first.

If enough of us do this, we can make a difference.  Please join me in this fun, exhilarating exchange of ideas.

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