Conservative and Liberal

I regard the way that most people use the words “conservative” and “liberal” as distortions of the language. Conservative and liberal are not states of being; they are modes. It doesn’t make any sense to say that someone is a liberal or a conservative. Liberal and conservative have more to do with energy. There are times when you can be liberal with your energy, and there are times when you have to be conservative with it. But you can’t be one way all the time. Nevertheless, we are trying to describe particular ideas when we use the two words as nouns, even if they have little to do with what the words actually mean. Conservative has generally referred to a person who clings to tradition or one who is cautious with money. But in today’s political arguments, it more often means someone who sees the rights of the individual as superior to those of the community.

In a healthy society—and in my opinion there are few, if any, these days—there is a balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community. We really are all in this together, and to insist that one or the other is more important is to be an extremist. One of the symptoms of extremism is that one sees everything in terms of a great struggle between Good and Evil. During the Cold War, the two extremist philosophies of Marxism and Laissez-Faire Capitalism (today’s “conservatives”) went after the other’s jugular. The Marxists were just as convinced of the righteousness of their cause as the Capitalists were of theirs. I think it self-evident that it is extremism itself—doesn’t matter what kind—that leads to evil.

Now that the commies are gone, Conservatives tend to see Liberals as the Great Enemy. Linguistically speaking, conservative and liberal are opposites. But politically speaking, they’re merely sloppy tags and don’t actually represent two ideas in strict opposition to one another.

So what’s a liberal? In current, between-the-lines usage, I think of “a liberal” as someone who sees the need for balance between the individual and the community, who is nearer the objective philosophical center, but feels the rage of the right wing and is somewhat timid about standing up for the balance that they know is necessary. Liberals, then, aren’t really left of center—at least not to the left of the center of truth. They’re a wee bit too far right.

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5 Responses to “Conservative and Liberal”

  1. embee Says:

    Hi Mark, you obviously get a kick out of considering these points with Talmudic exactitude and intensity. I used to too. But eventually my conclusion was that, when all is said and done, the world (or at least America) would be a better place if people would just vote the straight Democratic ticket, as often as possible. Just that. So that is what I do. And yes, I realize this appears to have all the depth of Mad Mag’s Alfred E. Newman: “What, Me Worry?” But I think it’s all right to embrace less worry, if you can do so ethically.

    • markbittner Says:

      Yes, it is one way I get my kicks. And I vote straight Democratic Party ticket, too. But if we don’t get serious on our own, then the universe will do the favor for us. There is always a day of reckoning. One of the most startling (to me) understandings I’ve ever come to is this one: “Karma is inexorable.” I saw that in a book, but its meaning didn’t hit me right off the bat. One day it hit me, and I’ve never forgetten it. (Karma as in “cause and effect,” by the way, not as in “luck.”)

  2. embee Says:

    “Karma is inexorable”–reminds me of some grim Spanish proverbs somebody told me recently: “God hates a coward,” and “Take what you want and pay for it, says God.” To me, the first means that God, or fate, finds a way to sock it to people who have clung to a self-protective, easy way. And the second (I think), that every choice in life has its cost–some of the most seemingly pleasant, have the heaviest. Yes: karma is one tough mother.

  3. Sarahjune Says:

    just happened upon “the wild parrots of telegraph hill” last night & thoroughly enjoyed it. looked you up afterward, found this blog, which was synchronistic because i’ve been thinking a lot these past couple weeks about these 2 terms & you helped put them in better perspective. thank you.

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