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Political Terminology:  Liberal and Conservative

Updated on October 8, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Essays in politics & spirituality are part of my writing tool-kit. The challenge of supporting a claim strengthens the mind & imagination.

U.S. Constitutional Convention, 1787


Defining "Liberal" and "Conservative"

There are many political terms that require definition and explanation; among them are the following terms: liberal, conservative, democrat, republican, democracy, republic, capitalism, socialism, communism, and many others. This series of Hubs will offer definitions and explanations for each of these terms.

Liberal vs Conservative

Terms such as "conservative" and "liberal" have meaning only in relation to a standard. And that standard can and often does change over time. If a country is governed by a king as England was easier in its history, but the citizens seek to overthrow that monarchy and instead institute a more citizen-centered government such a "democratic-republican" form of government, the citizens supporting and struggling for the change are rightly called "liberal," while those in favor of retaining the monarchy would be "conservative."

The Latin term "conservare" means to preserve or retain; thus the practical definition of conservative is to keep what is already in place. As the term "liberal" has originated from the Latin term "liber" meaning "free," those citizens in favor of change that frees them from the constraints of the monarchy are rightly designated as "liberal."

If the monarchy is successfully transformed to a democratic, people-centered government, the "liberals" will have gained success. However, if a generation or more later, the citizens begin leaning toward a more government-centered authority, that is, a socialist government, then the new movement would be pushed by "liberals" because those who continued to favor the democratic-republican government would be struggling to conserve their favored form of government.

Regardless of the type of government that exists in any nation, those who wish to change it are the "liberal" and those who wish to keep it are the "conservatives." That is not to conclude that all changes are, in fact, truly "liberal" in nature. There is little of a "liberal" nature in most of the policies currently espoused by the modern American "Democratic Party."

American Liberals and Conservatives

The American Founding Fathers who struggled for independence from England and who wrote the U.S. Constitution were the "liberals" of that period of history. They struggled to change their government from the English monarchy to an American democratic-republic. After their ultimate success, the United States of America became independent of the British monarchy and became a democratic-republic.

Currently, those American citizens who wish to preserve and conserve the government instituted by those liberal founding fathers are the "conservatives," while the modern "liberals" continue to work to change the Constitution to make the nation more socialistic, even communistic. Those "liberals" are the members of the current "Democratic Party," whose standards are anything but "democratic" because they lead to a bigger, more powerful government, instituting policies that would control every aspect of every citizen's life. Still the term "liberal" is applied to that group primarily to distinguish it from those who favor the classically liberal form of government, who have now become the "conservatives."

Modern American Liberals

Today's American "liberals" are working to transform the democratic-republic established by the Founding Fathers. Remember the current Democratic president's words: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

This president has already begun this transformation as he legislates by executive order instead of allowing legislation to be created by the congress as is required in the Constitution that supposedly governs the nation.

Most of the current liberals do not use the term "socialist"—a notable exception is failed presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who calls his brand of socialism by the oxymoron "democratic socialism"—because that term still has a negative connotation attached to it.

The Marxist theory is that from capitalism socialism would evolve into communism and all workers would own and manage the "means of production." This unwieldy system has never worked as it in all cases descends into dictatorships that in order to retain power must kill vast numbers of its nation's citizens.

China's Mao, Soviet Union's Stalin, Germany's Hitler, Cuba's Fidel Castro—all murdering dictators, whose iron grip on their nations, not only left millions dead, but left the rest of the citizenry in poverty and desperation, many trying defiantly to leave their "socialist paradises."

This fact has quite often been exemplified that a socialist government is utterly impossible; it is unwieldy and unfeasible. Yet turning a blind eye to historical facts, many low-information thinkers fall for the lies told them about that system.

The statement that today's liberals are tomorrow's conservatives is true only if the liberal cause was one worth fighting for at the outset. Those who wish to institute a government that over-taxes and over-regulates its citizens thus destroying the nation's wealth, harmony, and balance are extraordinarily ignorant and need to become informed about the history of ideas.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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