Conservatism is an attitude or philosophy that places great emphasis on traditional values, institutions, and ideas. Conservatives are generally distrustful of change, risk, and reform. Instead, they seek to conserve (maintain) an existing framework of standards and beliefs.
The exact meaning of conservatism varies with time, place, and circumstance. Many religions, for instance, have conservative branches that resist change and favor strict interpretations of sacred texts. Some individuals have conservative tastes in art and music—that is, they enjoy traditional forms rather than newer styles. But the term conservatism most often refers to political conservatism—an approach to government that stresses tradition, order, and security.
Political parties in many countries promote conservative approaches to government. Such parties include the Republican Party in the United States, the Conservative Party of Canada, and the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. Conservative parties usually compete with parties that hold more liberal beliefs—that is, beliefs that place greater emphasis on equality and reform. Members of a government or society who hold strongly conservative beliefs are often called the right wing. People with strongly liberal beliefs form the left wing. Those between the two are called the center, or moderates.
Conservative beliefs should be distinguished from reactionary beliefs. Reactionaries want to revolutionize society according to a model in past history. Conservatives, on the other hand, want to preserve what they consider the best elements of an existing society.
Features of political conservatism. In most modern democracies, political conservatism seeks to uphold traditional family structures and social values. Conservatives typically oppose abortion, homosexual behavior, drug use, and sexual activity outside of marriage. In some cases, conservative values are grounded in religious beliefs, and some conservatives seek to increase the role of religion in public life.
Most conservatives believe that government action cannot solve society’s problems, such as poverty and inequality. Many believe that government programs that seek to provide services and opportunities for the poor actually encourage dependence and reduce self-reliance. Most conservatives oppose affirmative action policies—that is, policies in employment, education, and other areas that aim to counteract past discrimination by giving special help to members of disadvantaged groups. Conservatives believe the government should not give special treatment to individuals on the basis of group identity.
Many conservatives, especially in the United States, believe that the government should not play a major role in regulating business and managing the economy. They typically oppose efforts to charge high tax rates and to redistribute income to assist the poor. Such efforts, they argue, do not properly reward people who have earned their money through hard work.
Because conservatives value order and security, they traditionally favor a strong government role in law enforcement and national defense. They often support the rights of private citizens to own firearms. Many conservatives regard military power as the basis for maintaining order and security in the world.
Print "Features of political conservatism" subsection
Liberalism is an attitude or philosophy that places a heavy emphasis on freedom, equality, and opportunity. In most cases, it also involves an openness to change and a desire to seek new solutions to problems. Many liberal beliefs are considered progressive because they seek to create progress through reform. Liberalism differs from conservatism, which places a greater emphasis on tradition, order, and security.
The exact meaning of liberalism varies with time, place, and circumstance, and with who is using the term. The term can apply to government, social behavior, religion, economics, or other areas. It can refer to a set of personal values or to a system of political beliefs. Ideas regarded as liberal in some cultures may not be considered liberal in others.
Many political parties practice a generally liberal approach to government. In the United States, for instance, the Democratic Party promotes many elements of liberalism. Other such parties include the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom, and the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party in Canada. Members of a government or society who hold strongly liberal views are sometimes called the left wing. People with strongly conservative views form the right wing. Those in the middle are known as the center, or moderates.
Features of liberalism. Liberalism stresses equality and freedom in social affairs. In the United States and many other democracies, liberals typically support abortion rights and the equal treatment of women and men. Many liberals believe that homosexual couples should have the same legal rights—including the right to marry—as heterosexual couples. Some liberal beliefs contradict traditional teachings of many religions. As a result, liberalism is sometimes associated with secularism—that is, the belief in separating politics from religion.
Most liberals support government programs that seek to provide economic security, ease human suffering, and reduce inequalities in society. They believe that programs to help the poor can be fully or partly financed by taxes on people with higher incomes. Liberals embrace cultural diversity and seek to protect the rights of minority groups. Many support affirmative action policies—that is, policies in employment, education, and other areas that aim to counteract past discrimination by giving special help to members of disadvantaged groups.
Many liberals believe that the government should regulate industry to ensure safe working conditions and to limit environmental pollution. Many liberals also favor unemployment benefits, minimum-wage laws, and government-funded health insurance.
Radicalism is a political philosophy that emphasizes the need to find and eliminate the basic injustices of society. The word radicalism comes from the Latin word radix, meaning root. Radicals seek what they consider the roots of the economic, political, and social wrongs of society and demand immediate and sweeping changes to wipe them out.
In the United States, many people regard radicals as political extremists who tend to use violence in support of their cause. But the political meaning of the word radical has changed over time and varies from country to country. For example, in the mid-1900’s, radicals in Western Europe were committed to the establishment of socialist states. But in the late 1900’s, radicals in Eastern Europe sought to overthrow existing socialist governments. In addition, the radicals of one generation may be seen as conservatives by the next generation.
In Europe, modern radicalism began with the French Revolution (1789-1799), in which radicals executed the king and queen and created a republic. Even though the French republic eventually fell and the monarchy was restored, the French Revolution inspired radicals for years to come. During the 1800's, many European radicals took the French Revolution as their model and tried to establish republics in their own countries.
The term radical came into general use in the United Kingdom during the early 1800's. It described reform demands by such political leaders as Charles James Fox. In 1797, Fox demanded what he called "radical reform" to make Britain’s political system more democratic. During the 1800's, the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham led a group called "philosophical radicals." He believed all legislation should aim to provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Several European radicals established the socialist movement and demanded the total reconstruction of society. During the late 1800's, the movement split into moderate and radical factions. The moderate socialists sought change through gradual reform. The radical socialists insisted that only revolution could reform society. In Russia, the moderates were called Mensheviks and the radicals Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 and set up a Communist government.