What does “liberal” mean? What does “conservative” mean?

We’ll start with Jack Plano and Milton Greenberg’s definitions: Liberalism: A political view that seeks to change the political, economic, or social status quo to foster the development and well-being of the individual. Liberals regard man as a rational creature who can use his intelligence to overcome human and natural obstacles to a good life for all, without resorting to violence against the established order. (oooh, isn’t that scary??) Liberalism is more concerned with process, with the method of solving problems, than the specific program. Significance: Liberalism evolved in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a doctrine emphasizing the full development of the individual, free from restrains of government. The twentieth-century liberal,conversely, looks to government as a means of correcting the abuses and shortcomings of society through positive programs of action…

Liberals have fought totalitarianism of the left and right by pursuing policies that seek to reduce economic and social inequalities and to produce political stability.
val macewan
Conservatism: Defense of the status quo against major changes in the political, economic, or social institutions of a society. The philosophy of conservatism has been expounded most effectively by the English statesman, Edmund Burke. He held that political stability could be maintained only if the forces of change could be moderated by a slow and careful integration of new elements into time-tested institutions. Significance:Both major American political parties have conservative wings that frequently unite in opposing liberal legislation. Today in American politics the term “conservative” has no precise meaning and is often used accusatorily against a rival party or candidate. The general conservative position on issues, however, has been fairly consistently opposed to governmental regulation of the economy and civil rights legislation, and in favor of state regulation of the economy and civil rights legislation, and in favor of state over federal action, fiscal responsibility, and decreased governmental spending and lower taxes.

Before you go off and think I’m quoting from some strange and scary political diatribe, let me tell you that I’m quoting from The American Political Dictionary, published in1967 by Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, Inc.  Here’s a freebie, an insight for you to chew on, it’s in the preface:
It has become commonplace to speak of the need for an informed citizenry in order to maintain a free society. This necessity is, nevertheless, both real and urgent. The authors hope that this volume will contribute to more effective use of classroom time to attain this goal.

So these aren’t screaming lunatic radicals. And I’m trying to figure out why labeling someone liberal or conservative is like saying they’re some kind of social deviant. Ooooh, you liberal you. You horrible conservative. You should be imprisoned for your beliefs.

My mother gave me the book when I was in junior high school.


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