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Liberalism and Conservatism in America Essay

In the political arena today, there are two crucial concepts governing the political philosophy, policy framework and legislations. Politics is categorized into conservative and liberal perspectives with liberalism supporting more government involvement in the development of policy framework that encourages affirmative actions which aims at uplifting the disadvantaged and the minority groups in the society. Liberals also call for an increased spending on the part of the government coupled by enhanced regulation and policies that redistributes wealth via taxation.

Conservatives on the other hand calls for a greater dependence on the freedom of the market where the minority groups and the disadvantaged are able to support themselves. They advocate for lower taxation and less government regulations. Both liberalism and Conservatism have been associated with the political scenario ever since democracy was conceived. Though there have been changes in the perspective regarding the role of the government in the democratic society, the fundamental tenets have remained relatively constant.

There are various degrees of liberalism and conservatism with some people being extremists whereas others are moderates; nevertheless, the argument between the two political groupings has continued to persist in the history of the United States. This paper shall explore the comparisons and contrasts between the two political perspectives and also look at the significance of the two perspectives to the American society in the current times. Liberalism in America: Liberalism is a wide philosophical and political ideology which favors personal freedoms.

The critical area on liberalism in the US dwells much on equality, right to vote, separation of the church from the state function, environmental protection and affirmative action in the provision of the social services. Liberals in the United States are in support of the individual liberties and also are of the view that economic freedom is necessary. Liberalism is a political ideology that was given impetus by the New Deal that was advanced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1930s followed by the Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society during the 60s.

The liberties achieved by these individuals included the Works Progress Administration and the Social Security Act of 1935, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Community Reinvestment Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Rawls, p 3). There is no universal definition of the term liberalism as various meanings have been attributed to it by different individuals. Some individuals define the concept as being open to advancement and change whereas others define it as being generous tolerant, open-minded, and willing to share.

During the 18th century, liberalism called for liberation of the market, personal freedoms, and less government role. Nowadays, liberalism believes in a liberal private sector that has been expanded and well supported by the public sector. For instance, in the free market, people are at liberty to engage in anything provided that it is within the legal framework. The market has to function within the laws that are put in place by an elected government to govern both individual and commercial crimes (Rawls, p 5). If these laws were not in place, the market is bound to be dysfunctional or functional but in a poor manner.

The government has also to support the free market as indicated by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that was initiated by the Eisenhower administration allowing for the building “of over 40,000 miles of interstate highways,” (Kangas, para 4). This led to the acceleration and expansion of the economy with unprecedented outcome as it enabled the migration of the middle class from the cities to suburbs as the standard of living improved tremendously. The government is therefore to facilitate commercial activities through funding infrastructural facilities like “railroads, satellite communications, the internet and canals,” (Kangas, para 4).

Historically, the term liberalism is associated with President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a time when America was undergoing an economic crisis and Leftists came under scathing attack. This resulted into misery in gripping the populace. The public wanted the government to provide some relief but this was a great challenge as the society was quite conservative and that socialist ideas could not be accepted. The term socialism was considered bad and Marxist and thus the term ‘liberal’ was adopted. Americans are known to have a liking for freedom and thus the word ‘liberal’ was considered attractive (von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, para 10).

Modern liberalism was initiated by the progressive activities of the early 20th century which developed the basic principles of liberalism. According to Woodrow Wilson, the constitution was supposed to be interpreted in a vital new spirit so as to reflect the current issues or else it would remain inadequate and inappropriate to the current generation. The presidents were therefore required to adopt dynamism and avoid being mere constitutional office bearers so as to be in line with the popular opinion of the people (Kesler, para 6).

The second phase of liberalism was economical as exemplified in the New Deal package and the Great Society. The citizens were presented with social and economical benefits such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The federal government also got engaged in regulating the private sector and the areas which initially were under the local and state authority. The final phase of liberalism was felt in 1960s and 70s as cultural liberalism flourished across the United States institutions over-spilling to the general public.

There were calls for liberation that brought about sex, drugs, and abortion issues among others to the people. Conservatism in America: Conservatism is a political philosophy which favors the free market economy, religious morals and is against socialist principles. The Republican Party in the United States is greatly associated with this concept ever since the late 19th century. In a nut shell, conservatives in the US are associated with belief in emphasis on religion, moral values, belief in a capitalist society, reduced taxation, and maintenance of law and order among other tenets.

The American conservatives are unique to their European fellows as they do not advocate for the monarchial or aristocratic regimes. Though conservatism has always been part of the American society, the ideas of Russell Kirk in ‘The Conservative Mind’ of 1953, has been credited with the emergence of the modern conservatism. In the 70s, moral concerns especially in regard to abortion, sexuality and family dominated the political arena with conservatives taking out distinct stands supported by grassroots including religious groupings and other organizations like the Moral Majority.

This was referred to as fusionism as many groups were brought together under conservatism (Ansell, p 5). The conservative movement within the United States has incorporated different groups which come together occasionally leading to success in the election process. The current conservative ideologies became a significant political force in mid 1960s when the Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater captured the Republican Presidential ticket in the fiercely contested nominations. Though he lost during the elections, his Republican Party shifted to the right forever.

During the 80s, Ronald Reagan strengthened conservatism within the Republican Party when he appealed to the fundamentalist Christians who had raised concern in regard to the social trends that they believed to be unfriendly. Reagan Era became the yard stick for measuring the conservatism in respect to the social, economical and foreign policies (Ansell, p 3). During the early 1950s, Republicans won the election of 1952 when liberalism ideas were generally acceptable following the effects of the New Deal.

Criticism was however put to the liberalism by Russell Kirk who was of the view that liberalists emphasized too much on the economical concepts failing to address the human spiritual nature. He called for a return to a conservative political ideology by appealing to the farmers, the church, and small townships among other groupings to adopt conservative measures (Ansell, p 9). Kirk was later described as a traditionalist conservative and he differed with the liberals in regard to whether tradition and virtue or freedom could be of vital concern.

Conservatives were opposed to the concept of huge government as well as communism. The conservative spirit began taking root within the Republican Party and even the white Democrats from the southern states defected. However, it was not until the 90s that the Republican became dominant in the South (Ansell, p 12). Liberalism Vs Conservatism: Liberalism and conservatism are two unique political philosophies that characterize the political scenario in the United States. Conservatism is associated with the Republicans whereas Liberalism is strongly linked to the Democrats.

There are striking differences between the two concepts in regard to various political policies and other related issues that interests the political class. However, it is worthy noting that both liberalism and conservatism do share similar tenets while differing in the degree to which such tenets are to be implemented. For instance, they both have belief in the private and public sectors though the liberalists advocate for larger government while the conservatives call for a small government (Kangas, para 11). Liberalism has strong belief in group other than individual survival.

Such grouping needs coordination, cooperation and agreement which require the establishment of a social contract that would determine the rights and obligation of every member. Conservatives on the other hand considers rights as innate, absolute, inherent, and self-evident. The conservatives get it wrong since historically rights have been changing and thus they are social constructions. To the liberalists, advancement in moral philosophy and science are the reason as to why humans have improved on the conception of rights (Kangas, para 13).

There is also a striking difference between the liberals and the conservatives in regard to how the society has to reward its people. Those societies that base on merit in rewarding individuals encourage competitiveness amongst the people and that individuals earn what they deserve. These societies are referred to as meritocracies and have rules that are somehow relaxed. The societies that base on equal distribution in awarding individuals are said to result in a less deceitful society which encourages civility.

Such societies are based on egalitarian principles and are usually accomplished with expanded rules. Most societies however look to establish a balance between the two extremes (Kangas, para 14). To the liberals, meritocracy in its extreme form is opposed and thus they call for the moderated form. In this scenario, while the rich continue to earn more, some of their earnings are to be redistributed to the other members of the society. Liberals advocate for incentives to encourage achievement which leads to talent development where merit can be drawn from.

It should be noted that the liberals do not advocate for strict egalitarianism for fear of the repercussions as what was experienced in the Soviet Union. Conservatism has been associated with the belief in meritocracy and successful individuals have to be rewarded based on their achievement. In this scenario, the rich shall continue being rich whereas the poor are impoverished as such societies encourage ‘survival for the fittest’ model (Kangas, para 15).

Liberalism is known to be the champions for the democratic ideals since they believe that through observation of the democratic tenets, power is able to be dispersed to the people. Thus liberals call for the strengthening of democratic foundations with some advocating for direct democracy where individuals participate by voting directly on legislative matters. On the other hand, the conservatives have strong belief in constitutionalism as they believe that through the constitution, their interests are best protected. Conservatives calls for anti-tax and pro-property amendments which favors the few wealthy individuals.

It is therefore clear that the constitution is only used to preserve the status quo of a particular interest group with less regard to the less fortunate members of the society (Kangas, para 16). On religion, conservatives are said to be strongly religious compared to the liberals. Conservatives hail religion for its moral teachings as they look to instill the good morals and values to the people. Though most liberals are not non-believers, they hold a liberal mind on religion. They however have a rich conviction for science as they advocate for progression and change.

Liberals therefore encourages the academia and continuous learning holding that science and education has the key to resolving the problems affecting humanity. Historically, the greatest scientists of all time including Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Darwin, and Bertrand Russell were known to be liberals and were faced with great opposition from the conservatives in the Christian faith. Conservatives and liberals have continued to exhibit differences on certain matters as abortion with the conservatives taking a pro-life position whereas liberals are generally pro-choice.

This can be related to moral issues advocated for by the conservatives and the personal liberties that are called for by the liberals (Kangas, para 19). In general, the conservatives and the liberals have relative differences on various issues affecting the society. Whereas the liberals call for control on the gun ownership, conservatives are in contrast. The two political categories also show some differences in regard to who they are representing at the political level.

The liberals are associated with representing the interests of women, workers, the poor, academics, environmentalists and the artists. On the other hand, the conservatives are seen as representing the business managers and owners, the rich, men, whites, Christians, the industrialists, the police and the military. There are many more differences between these two groups on virtually all aspects (Kangas, para 10). Relevance of Understanding the two Political Categories: Understanding the two political philosophies is crucial in familiarizing with the United States political dynamics.

With conservatism being associated with Republicans and Liberalism with the Democrats, the political landscape is destined to be shaped depending on which of the two political parties is in power. Though some individuals believe that America has shifted to the Right irrespective of who is in power as the case of Adrian Wooldridge, who believes that in the past half of the last century, America has become a conservative society; the fact remains that critical decisions have to be influenced from above and the political philosophy of the office bearer is central in the shaping of policies.

According to Wooldridge, currently over 40% of the Americans ascribe to conservatism whereas 19% are liberals as opposed to 1950s and 60s when liberalism ruled. He is of the view that the conservative voice cannot be ignored irrespective of who is holding the office (Haines, para 1). Contrary to what Wooldridge believed, the ascendance to power by Democrats in the 2008 elections has seen several liberalist policies being implemented as seen in the comprehensive medical insurance reforms and the financial stimulus package (Kesler, para 5).

It is therefore crucial to understand the political trend in order to be in a position to appreciate the shift in policies initiated by our political class. Conclusion: Conservative and liberal political philosophies have remained part and parcel of the American society for a very long time. Having been adopted by the two major political parties in the United States politics, the two philosophies are destined to continue shaping our political trend for many years to come.

Republicans push for conservative policies whenever they rise to power whereas the Democrats push for liberal policies once in power. To understand the US politics, one has to analyze the political history and orientation of the major political parties. Work Cited: Ansell, Amy E. Unraveling the Right: The New Conservatism in American Thought and Politics. 1998. Boulder, CO. Westview Press. Haines, Christina. Conservatism in America. 2004. Retrieved on 12th May 2010 from; http://www. aim. org/briefing/conservatism-in-america/.

Kangas, Steve. The Short FAQ on Liberalism. 2010. Retrieved on 12th May 2010 from; http://www. huppi. com/kangaroo/ShortFAQ. htm. Kesler, Charles R. How will Obama’s liberalism shape America? 2009. Retrieved on 12th May 2010 from; http://www. csmonitor. com/Commentary/Opinion/2009/0211/p09s01-coop. html. Rawls, John. Political Liberalism. 1996. New York; Columbia University Press. von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Erik. Liberalism in America. 1997. Retrieved on 12th May 2010 from; http://www. firstprinciplesjournal. com/articles. aspx? article=475.


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