Skip to main content

What's a Conservative Ideology and What's a Liberal Ideology?


I used to carpool with an old, blind professor to the small college I attended and he use to tell me, paraphrasing Gore Vidal, that politics came from two words: poli, meaning many, and tics, meaning blood sucking vermin. Unfortunately, his somewhat suspect etymology, while proving technically untenable, has turned out to be largely correct in principle.

In American politics, where power has become everything, ideology has become a bastard step-child. American politicians think more about how they can fool the masses or get around popular democracy to further their ends than they do about what they truly believe in, if they actually believe in anything?

Of course, it is not my intent to sweep every single politician under the bus with a broad brush, so for this hub it must be understood that I am speaking in general terms.

Two Major Ideologies: Liberal and Conservative

There are two major ideologies in American politics. Understanding these helps us understand each other politically and enables us to make sense of what at times seems senseless. These ideologies are labeled conservative and liberal. Although these terms have changed definitions over the years, I will use them as they are currently defined.

If you took a strip of paper that was blue on one end and gradually changed colors until it was red at the other end, you would end up with a spectrum of colors. At some point toward the center of the strip you could get into a few arguments as to whether the color was red, purple, or blue. It is that way with the liberal and conservative ideologies, so I will be concentrating on the ends of the strip, so to speak, and not the middle.


Conservative Vs. Liberal

At the core of it, Conservatives base there ideology on what they see as reason and logic and it is individualistic by nature, whereas a liberal's ideology is based on emotion and ideals and is collective by nature. A liberal is interested in curing society's ills by social engineering. A conservative is interested in curing society's ills by individuals exercising their own choices to better themselves. Because of this, conservatives view centralized power with deep suspicion. Liberals on the other hand see centralized power as an opportunity to affect great change for good.

The Role of Government

Because of the fundamental differences in the way conservatives and liberals approach the solutions to society's challenges, it should come as no surprise that they have radically different views on the role of government.

The Liberal View

A liberal wants the government deeply involved in our lives. It is often seen as a parent to us all—or the big tent. They believe that the government can force society to confront its ills and legislate and enforce the cures. A liberal point of view diminishes the individual's responsibility and believes people are victims or victimizers. This point of view does not see individuals as having power to rise above their circumstances in large numbers and therefore a savior must be found to "level the playing field."

They point to the example of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Without government intervention, they argue, the rights of minorities would never have been acknowledged nor would there be equal rights for all. In fact the civil rights movement is the basis of the modern liberal's political ideology, and proof that it is essentially correct.

This conviction motivates them to use all means available to impose their vision of goodness on the masses. If they can't get the populous to support their agenda then they will get the courts to legislate it. This is because they firmly believe that their agenda is for the greater good of society.

Liberalism is naturally sympathetic with socialism and suspicious of individualism and even though it shares the same long-term goals as conservatism it's approach, as you can see, is radically different.

The Conservative View

Even though the conservatives share with liberals the desire for a better society, they differ sharply in what role the government should play. In a nutshell, conservatives view the role of government as "the less the better." Since they see the combined strength and sufficiency of the individual as the only honest cure for society they believe that the role of government should be restricted to functions that support and protect individual liberty. They are very suspicious of government interference in individual rights, and they do not see differences in socioeconomic groups as a bad thing since, in their view, it is every individual's right to change those circumstances by choice and action.

They view the government's attempts at redistribution of wealth through its tax codes, its interference in commerce by regulations, and its welfare entitlements as enabling individuals to shirk responsibility for their own lives and rely on the government to take care of them. They reason that the more the government takes responsibility for his or her well being away from the individual, the weaker and more dependent society will become.

Who's right?

At this point in American politics the two ideologies have taken a back seat to power, but if they were brought to bear on our government which would be the best: Socialist Democracy, or an independent go-it-alone capitalist democracy? I would submit to you that the extremes of both ideologies are dangerous and would deepen problems in American society and that one, tempered with the other, might be the best ideology of all.

For example: if we have a struggling class in America, we could provided training opportunities for people who wanted to succeed and would put forth efforts on their own behalf instead of entitlement programs that accomplish nothing and consume copious amounts of money? Along with such programs would also come the responsibility for the recipients to put forth efforts on behalf of their own welfare.

We need to have a heart that includes tough love and foresight, one that looks at America's opportunities and does not retreat into a defensive posture from the world around it. One that can realize the true nature of the threats against America and America's way of life. Not a vision that feels good at the thought of America sinking down to the level of the third world, but instead one that forges on a head and shows the way for the third world to follow.

America must continue to provide unparalleled opportunities, but not bend to whiners and self proclaimed victims who want to short-cut the system and reap benefits they never earned. We must in sympathy try to teach fishing, quit giving fish and realize that poverty is not always the rich or the government's fault. But we must not march on, leaving people behind who, with a little instruction and help, can become productive and successful. In doing this we must also have the heart firm enough to leave those behind who refuse all help and demand instead to be fed from the public coffer's without a contribution of their own.

Scroll to Continue

We must leave classism, racism, and bigotry behind, regardless if it is the old-school-hard-hearted variety wacky right, or the soft feel-good, guilt-washing, variety of the wacky left. No class of Americans should be punished or be held back based on the color of their skin in order to "even the score." We need to let go of power and take hold of responsibility; quit giving the media oracle status, and get the job done.


jon ewall on June 30, 2017:

Christian W

I enjoyed your hub as informative.

Conservatives believe in Capitalism where as Liberals believe in socialism Simply a clash of the ideologies.

WTP Elect both to Congress to serve the needs of ALL Citzens .Obamacare is failing our citizens, that is fact. One must ask , why can't the two ideologies work TOGETHER to solve the problems?

WTP in 2018, will have an oppurtunity to speak by going to the poll and vote.WTP before voting need to need to review our officials voting records. The question is : Are they voting for the people or the party?

Let your voice be heard loud



ELECTION 2018 KNOW your official VOTING RECORD check it your vote ?? ‘

rudrakshi on June 30, 2017:

This is helpful

Johng143 on August 09, 2016:

You are my inspiration , I have few web logs and very sporadically run out from to brand. febcaakccgek

Larry Allen Brown from Brattleboro Vermont on December 20, 2015:

I not only opened with my rejection of the premise of your original Hub, I've addressed every one of your additional posts, point by point. And each point is explained to you why I reject your argument in detail in order to make it perfectly clear to you why and where your argument falls apart. That's what makes the posts longer than you might feel comfortable with.

All your points are being addressed and I'm providing a detailed explanation as to why I think it's false reasoning. In fact...I'm doing that right now. So what exactly is it you talking about now? Any response to what you post is characterized as a "screed". Would you prefer a bumper sticker quip? That's not an ad hominem. That's a quip, about a quip. Now had I added; "Conservative/Republicans all love bumper sticker lines. They replace having to actually think". That would be an ad hominem, because I'm lumping you in with people that don't think.

But it's also faulty reasoning to say All conservative/Republicans love bumper sticker lines, for whatever reason. That's a conclusion drawn, by applying inductive reasoning, and you can never prove something like that. You can't really say "ALL" so and so's, are this or that. How could you prove something like that? That's using Inductive reasoning and you can't prove anything using induction. Inductive reasoning gives us a probability based on a generality but it never provides proof. My impression over the years is that conservatives tend to use inductive reasoning a lot more than liberals, who tend to use deductive reasoning more often than conservatives. Obviously the two views reason differently from one another, and we use only two different methods of reasoning. Inductive and deductive. One gives us a generality, and the other gives us absolute proof.

So... you now employ the very ad hominem fallacious argument that you've been suggesting was coming from me? I understand the ad hominem fallacy. I just gave a demonstration of that. You need to characterize my responses to you, as a screed, which has a negative connotation to it. So you link me to a negative. You haven't addressed anything that I said, you just call the response; a "screed". That's an ad hominem. It's a personal attack and doesn't address any part of what I said. And that is the truth and I lean toward the truth. Not any ideology.

I'm not sure that you know very much about the ad hominem based on the context that you try to place it into. It is important to note that the label “ad hominem” is ambiguous, and that not every kind of ad hominem argument is fallacious. In one sense, an ad hominem argument is an argument in which you offer premises that you the arguer don’t accept, but which you know the listener does accept, in order to show that his position is incoherent (as in, for example, the Euthyphro dilemma...which goes back to Plato. It's very interesting and if you are unaware of it you really should do yourself a favor and become familiar with it. ). There is nothing wrong with this type of argument ad hominem.

The other type of ad hominem argument is a form of genetic fallacy. Arguments of this kind focus not on the evidence for a view but on the character of the person advancing it; ( your reference to my response as a "screed" was an example of using the genetic fallacy to discredit what I was saying rather than addressing the argument.) they seek to discredit positions by discrediting those who hold them. ( A tactic that is in complete control of the Republican Campaigns taking place. So why would you support a party that utilizes a tactic that you abhore? Bye the way; that's an example of an ad hominem if you didn't notice.) It is always important to attack arguments, rather than arguers, and this is where arguments that commit the ad hominem fallacy fall down.

"I stand by my assertions."

-- So, you fail to address any of my criticism's and stand by the holes in your theory. How do you ignore those holes in the theory and ever claim to be honest with yourself? And if you can't be honest with yourself, who can you be honest with? You do know, that is the sign of being an ideologue. When the ideology is more important to you than the truth, you've pretty much swallowed the kool-aid.

Truth matters to some people. I guess that's why we prefer deductive reasoning as our compass to the truth. Generalities don't cut it. Being part of the reality based community makes more sense.

Your Hub is an example of Inductive reasoning. What you've offered is a characterization of something you call a "Liberal Ideology". Ideology is not part of liberal reasoning process. Liberals tend to reason deductively. Ideology falls apart under deductive reasoning. Conservatives tend to be more religious than liberals. Conservatives entertain belief systems. Conservatives invest their religious beliefs into their politics. They reason inductively. Belief systems all require inductive reasoning to exist. Belief systems are always looking for things they feel serve as evidence to justify the belief. But the belief always remains unproven.

Belief systems fall apart under deductive reasoning. It's no secret that liberals tend to be less religious than conservatives. They reason differently. They form deductive syllogisms in their head and follow the premises to the conclusion to determine the truth of the claim. And if there is an error in the process, for the sake of truth, it's pointed out.

Christian Walker (author) from Maryland on December 19, 2015:

I notice that you have given up on my actual post. As far as this last screed, I stand by my assertions.

Larry Allen Brown from Brattleboro Vermont on December 19, 2015:

Oh Brother; are you serious?

This: ad hominem examples: "Apparently that didn't sink in" Not an ad hominem

" I'm sure you can't comprehend that..." Where did I say that? I have a feeling that what I may have said was, "I'm sure you CAN comprehend that'.

"No thinking is required." Is not an ad hominem. It's an example of what takes place when a person adopts a theory of rationality to explain everything. No thinking is required. It's what takes place with a fundamentalist in religion. All the answers are provided to him in the Bible. The theory of rationality has already done the "heavy lifting" of considering the idea in question and providing the position to take for those that accept the theory of rationality.

"You're a fallible human being. That means that your thinking has flaws. If you are a critical thinker then you look for errors and try to eliminate them. Obviously you aren't."...And neither is this. Stating factually that you are a fallible human being, is NOT an ad hominem, any more than saying that you breath in and out is an ad hominem.

"Appeal to Authority: "I Have written a book"... I have. It's a true statement. In fact I've written two. The first book deals with the very topic of discussion; Logic. I studied the subject extensively and wrote a book about it and how we use, (or don't use) logic in our political debates. I've already addressed this earlier.

"To dismiss that by saying that Hitler wrote a book is to dismiss every book ever written because Hitler also wrote a book. Besides, Hitler never wrote a book on logic. We can break your argument down to a syllogism."

P1. Adagio wrote a book on logic

P2. Hitler wrote a book


C: Therefore, Adagios book on logic is invalid in an argument about logic.

That's an example of guilt by association. Guilt by association is the attempt to discredit an idea based upon disfavored people or groups associated with it. This is the reverse of an appeal to misleading Authority.

Hitler was a Catholic,

Therefore Catholicism is wrong

Hitler was a vegetarian.

Therefore, vegetarianism is wrong.

The Nazis were conservationists.

Therefore, conservationism is wrong.

Hitler wrote a book

Therefore, writing a book is wrong

Here's a good example of the Genetic Fallacy that we can see from current events on the Political campaign.

Sure, the media claims that Donald Trump was lying about seeing thousands of Muslims dancing and partying in Jersey City on 9/11. But we all know about the media's credibility, don't we."

If you want to see non-stop ad hominem's just watch Donald Trunp in every speech he makes. Now, the rest of the Republican candidates have picked up on the fact that ad hominem attacks are exactly what the base of the Party wants to hear. So Christie calls the president a feckless weakling. Each of the candidates rips each other, or rips Hillary, or rips Obama with one ad hominem after another. I guess my question would be if you're concerned about the use of ad hominems, why doesn't this bother you? Or does it? The entire Republican campaign is one ad hominem attack followed by another. Today Bush called Trump a "jerk". Is this really the level of political discourse in today's GOP. Get personal and toss out as much Red Meat as you can find at your opponent.

You're playing very loose an fast with your assertion that fallacies are in play. Legitimate criticism does not qualify as an ad hominem. It seems to me that you have perhaps rushed through a website of Logical fallacies and reach for the nearest thing you can find to shout, " Fallacy"!, because it doesn't seem that you know how to apply any of what you have found into the context of the discussion.

Christian Walker (author) from Maryland on December 19, 2015:

ad hominem examples:

"Apparently that didn't sink in"

" I'm sure you can't comprehend that..."

"No thinking is required."

"You're a fallible human being. That means that your thinking has flaws. If you are a critical thinker then you look for errors and try to eliminate them. Obviously you aren't."

Appeal to Authority:

I Have written a book...

Those are counter examples to the side arguments about fallacies.

As to the main point, if you examine the post again. you will discover that the entire post is not about ideologies but about liberal and conservative views based on ideologies and indeed as I stated in the post, any given individual will fall somewhere on the spectrum between modern conservatism and modern liberalism.

You are failing to connect your argument with the current realities of conservatism when you try to define its classical definition. I stated that in the post. Conservatism is the idea of trying to conserve that which people deem as good and this changes over time. Thus one can't compare the conservatism of the Jim-Crow south with the conservatism of today unless they are driven by an ideology themselves.

Were Fred and Barney closet homosexuals? One could argue that based on the admission of their theme song, "You'll have a gay old time." But of course the meaning of those words have intensified with time.

Indeed, one could argue that Lincoln was a conservative for defending the union while also arguing that Jefferson Davis was a conservative for defending the "southern way of life."

The very terms conservative and liberal are all over the map. What I was intending to convey in my post was the realities of the modern political landscape and the only means to do so is to use fallible words which only approximate thought.

To deny that there is not a real liberal ideology is to claim that no liberals have a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.

In the classical since you, yourself have an ideology by your own admission since you claim to study the science of ideas; the study of their origin and nature.

When dealing with words there will never be conclusive proof that one is right since we are only approximating what we actually mean.

Larry Allen Brown from Brattleboro Vermont on December 18, 2015:

There's a bit more to this than saying; "This has turned into a wordy exercise of "I'm right, no I'm right" that is rife with logical fallacies on both sides. That is because they are easier to sling than truth." I actually look for the areas in which I could be wrong, and I freely admit that I could be wrong about a host of things. I always do that. I don't have to be right about everything, but I'd prefer not to be wrong if I can avoid it, and I can avoid that by holding my own views up to the same scrutiny as I hold yours. I haven't heard that from you. Is it possible that you could be wrong about something here? Or are you infallibly correct?

"As you are probably aware, brevity is the soul of wit and this exercise has become witless."

I'm aware of what a "maxim" is and that's a maxim. So is this; "If you can't take advice, you can't be helped". I'm not interested in maxims. And I'm not attempting to be "witty". I'm interested in how an idea is presented and whether it stands up to criticism.

"I suggest that if we wish to continue and for the sake of clarity and time that we select one point about my post with which you disagree and succinctly as possible you tell me what it is."

I believe I did that. I told you that I reject the very premise of your Hub. The Ideology of Liberalism. I'm sure you must know that ideologies are fixed. They don't change. Liberalism constantly changes. It never stays in one place long enough to become an ideology. It doesn't cling to traditionalism. It doesn't fear the unknown. Liberalism is a philosophy. I laid out the origins of the modern Conservative movement which you, being a conservative should know is accurate. I also laid out the origins of liberal thought and it's connection to the Enlightenment. Liberalism is committed to science and reason for one thing. Paine wrote the Age of Reason, and Paine was the polar opposite of the conservative anti-Enlightenment figure, Edmund Burke. Conservatism doesn't trust science or reason at all. You can see that from Burke all the way to the Republican Party of today and the people from the party that sit on the science committee in the House.

"anyone following our thread will not glaze over, quit reading and think of us as buffoons."

I don't think that's the case, but why would it matter to you what somebody might think. I think they'd find this very interesting. I reject the premise of your Hub. How's that? I think that you've attempted to compare apples and oranges. I think you're mistaken about what Liberalism is. You correctly cited Conservatism as an ideology but then there must be a Liberal ideology as well, and so you offered your opinion using Loaded Language in describing Liberalism. What you did was create a Straw Man argument. You're trying to draw a comparison between to things that aren't the same species. So in order to debate you on this, you'd assume that another person would argue on the terms that you set. But that's not the case is it. I've stated the difference between Ideology and Philosophy. Do you find anything about what I said problematic? If so, what?

The thing that I really don't understand about what you're saying here, is that I already have addressed each of your points one by one to illustrate where you went wrong. That's why the responses are long. I don't offer up soundbites in a debate. I make my position as clear as I possibly can and that's not going to be done in some short little quip or a couple of sentences. I take these statements and claims by you and others of your persuasion serious enough to give them full consideration and thought. I expect no less from the person I'm debating with. If you have ANY issues with any part of what I've said, besides your objection to the response being long, then say where you find a problem. What is your objection to anything I have said so far? And give me something of substance. Not my posts are too long. Substantively, what do you not agree with?

Larry Allen Brown from Brattleboro Vermont on December 18, 2015:

The greatest difference between you and I that I can see, is that I don't define others. I never define conservatives. I'm not a conservative so what would I know about that? So instead, I consult those that know what conservatism is. I go to the source, and I let them define themselves on their own terms. I trace modern conservative thinking back to it's inception and that would be Edmund Burke. From there I've read the works of Russell Kirk who wrote The Conservative Mind in 1953. Kirk was the greatest influence on the thinking of Mr. Conservative himself, Ronald Reagan, who gave Kirk the Medal of Freedom for his work on establishing conservative thought in this country.

I've read Buckley. The contemporary writers like Will, and Sowell, and Krauthammer. I've researched the Heritage Foundation and Dr. Lee Edwards to gain even more insight into the ideology that they embrace and define. In other words, I look for conservatives to tell me about conservatism. After intensive research on the thinking of those that define the ideology, and who explain it in dogmatic terms to the point of establishing a "Canon" of Conservatism, (which is Kirk's term to describe in concrete terms what exactly conservatism is) which amounts to conservative doctrine, I've then determined that their definitions and descriptions are open to criticism as all ideas and ideologies are.

Are there problems within the doctrine? Within the ideology? Yeah there are. Unless of course you believe that it's infallible, there are many. There always are within every ideology because they rely on absolutism. They are all inflexible. Most importantly, they are all foundational. They are all man-made and man is fallible and you cannot derive an infallible product from a fallible source. Yet the ideology cannot be wrong. And the ideologue would never consider questioning that theory of rationality. It's the thing that provides his world view and gives him a sense of certitude. It can't be wrong. It's infallible. To admit that it's just another fallible idea, is to admit that it could be wrong about something, and the ideologue won't go there.

The basic problem with theories of rationality is that they require justification by some authority. Conservatism is a theory of rationality that cannot justify itself as true. What is it based on? What is the authority that makes it a rational idea? It can't be based on itself. No theory can use itself to prove itself. That's circular reasoning and of course a logical fallacy. Conservatism as a theory of rationality cannot withstand criticism precisely because it cannot justify itself. It requires some authority to provide its rationality. And when you ask what that authority is, what you get is another justification which leads to another question of what is the basis for that authority. By now we should see that Conservatism requires bases. It's a foundationalist theory. So the question will always be what is the basis for the basis, as it cannot be its own basis. Every attempt to provide a basis leads to another justification leading to yet another basis, and another justification. It's called Infinite Regress, and you can push this forever without the conservative ever coming up with a final authority which justifies the entire ideology. This explains why they are alwa