Liberalism and conservatism, two philosophies that include political, economic, social and cultural aspects, are currently confused by the frequency of their association in the same individuals and political movements. However, theoretically and historically, the two ideologies are opposed on many key points.
In this article we will describe the main differences between the views of conservatives and liberals. It is important to note that these are not the only political philosophies, but there are others that are very influential such as socialism, anarchism and authoritarianism. The union of various ideologies is extremely common.
What is conservatism?
In political science, the term “conservatism” refers to ideologies focused on conservation of social institutions of a given group, Which can be framed in abstract concepts such as “nation” or in more concrete concepts, such as states. It is also very common for conservatism to be linked to religion.
Throughout history there have been countless forms of conservatism, from its manifestations they depend on the characteristics of the socio-cultural, temporal and geographical context in which they occur. However, conservative movements often view the human being and the society they defend as “natural”.
Conservatives tend to reject behaviors and ideas that do not match the social norms they advocate: those associated with the majority culture in a given geographic area. like that, conservatism defends tradition, Which is understood as a means of preserving social structure and stability.
The radical side of conservatism is made up of reactionary movements, which oppose change head-on and advocate the recovery of “traditional values” which, in many cases, have practically disappeared today. This is the case of the anti-abortion currents which have had some political success in Spain in recent years.
Liberalism, at least in its most representative variant, appeared in Europe in the 18th century, in the context of the Enlightenment. At that time, the main characteristic of the liberals was theirs rejection of the established rules advocated by the ConservativesAmong them, absolute monarchy, the union between state and religion or the division of society into classes.
Today, the term “liberalism” is confused by the many uses that have been given to it. The conception of liberalism in its economic aspect predominates (which defends the non-intervention of the State in the markets) and the American nomenclature, in which it is associated with progressivism; however, classical liberalism has many different aspects.
What the different conceptions of liberalism have in common, whatever the privileged aspect (economic, social, political and religious are among the most important), is that they defend individual freedom in some of its facets. Thus, a social liberal could defend same-sex marriage and an economic one the minimization of taxes.
Currently there are a clear conflict between economic and social liberalism. The alliance between supporters of the free market, conservatives and state apparatuses increasingly undermines individual rights, equality between people born into different social classes or freedom of opinion, aspects fundamental for classical liberals.
Differences between liberals and conservatives
The differences between liberalism and conservatism they cover a wide range of facets, from ethics or the vision of the human being to the conception of the state and the social structure. In any case, it is very common for conservative and liberal ideas to coexist among the same people, as is the case for other political philosophies to do the same.
Perhaps the most significant common point between these two ideologies is that both support the primacy of private property over public property. This characteristic, which is opposed to the approaches of socialism or social democracy, largely explains the alliances between conservatives and liberals.
1. Tradition and change
Conservatives believe that maintaining traditions and social norms is fundamental to the health of society; this makes them reluctant to change, which can have negative consequences. however, liberalism opposes any obstacle to individual freedom and has for ideal the progress of humanity.
2. Individuality and collectivism
If conservatism is associated with the structuring of society according to the groups that make it up, such as families, for liberalism the individual is the basic human unit. In this sense, there must be a clear suspicion about respect for social norms and the subordination of minorities to majorities.
3. Personal liberty and civil rights
The fundamental value of liberalism is, as the name suggests, freedom; however, how this concept is understood largely depends on personal and ideological factors. In this sense historically they defended social rights much more than the conservatives while, again, there are many forms of conservatism.
4. Social structure and mobility
In general, conservative approaches suggest that some social stratification, coupled with historical and practical factors, is the natural and desirable state of human groups – at least theirs. Instead, for liberalism social structure must depend on skills and economic success of each individual.
5. Religion and moral values
In liberalism, the religious freedom of individuals prevails; the same is true of moral values, which should not be imposed on others beyond the minimums preferably set by society as a whole. Instead, conservatism he generally uses religious morals as a tool for cohesion and social control.
6. Nationalism and internationalism
Conservative ideologies are naturally joined by the exaltation of tradition, shared values and the identity of a given group; this often leads to nationalism and protectionism. Liberals tend to advocate internationalism and the minimization of trade restrictions around the world.
7. Vision of the state and democracy
From a political point of view, the liberals believe that the size and weight of the state in the functioning of society should be kept to a minimum; in addition, they defend democracy and equality in the right to vote. Conservatism may be associated with an even greater rejection of the state, Prioritize class structure and therefore oligarchic tendencies.