Conservatism vs. Liberalism: The Circle

I have been thinking about the differences between liberalism and conservatism in America. One might be thinking, “Isn’t this obvious, or already discussed to death,” but I think it merits further examination.

I liken liberalism to an ever-expanding circle or frontier. So when people complain that ‘liberalism is going to far,’ I’m like ‘liberalism is doing what it does,’ which is claiming territory. The tendency of liberalism is to expand. This is also why liberalism is predictable: it’s easy to know what the liberal positions are, even though we’re supposedly dismayed the left going to far. Wokness is just a natural progression of liberalism, not an aberration of it. It means a bigger circle in which more disadvantaged groups are enclosed in this circle.

Conservatism is harder to pinpoint. It’s constantly changing except for a handful of core issues/beliefs. For example, many conservatives seem to support drug legalization and gay marriage, unlike three decades ago. Even things like foreign policy change: many on the left are now pro-war when it comes to Ukraine, unlike the Iraq war two decades ago.

Conservatism can be likened to a smaller circle which touches the outer tangent of the frontier or circle of liberalism. As time progresses the smaller circles is engulfed by the larger circle, but the smaller circle that is conservatism still holds some of its ground; it’s still enclosed. So this means that core issues or beliefs such as the second amendment, lower taxes, personal responsibility, etc. remain enclosed by the smaller circle within the bigger circle.

I overlooked the category of anti-woke liberals, which includes neoliberals. Neoliberals and classcial liberals generally support the same positions as the left, but less extreme. It’s somewhere in-between neoconservatism and the left, differing mostly on guns, social programs, abortion, and tax cuts. Regarding the anti-idpol left, left-wing economic populism is highly correlated with holding left-wing social views, such as social justice. Even someone like Krystal Ball who is sometimes held up as an example as left-wing populist who is opposed to idpol, this is not entirely correct. One is hard-pressed to find economic populists criticizing BLM. Usually the antipathy is directed as a something more vague such as ‘elites’ or politicians.

One objective of the social sciences ‘project’ is to find non-object issues differences between the left and the right, but this harder than it sounds. Jonathan Haidt has done work into this, what he calls moral foundations theory. Regarding lower-level beliefs, not just object-level issues, it’s harder to tell the difference at times. It’s not like one side is more logical or rational than the other or more empirically-minded. This is why, I think, the IQ distinction matters more, because IQ tells us much more about the differences between people than ideology. You can easily pick out who the high IQ people are by how they act. But without object-level issues (like abortion, taxes, gun rights, etc.), it’s harder to know who is liberal or conservative.

Consider the notion of fairness…liberals may argue that tax cuts are unfair to the poor; conservatives may argue student loan forgiveness is unfair to people who already paid their loans or didn’t take on debt. I think conservatives are possibly more skewed towards fairness, whereas liberals are more skewed towards equality. These may seem similar, but the conservative framing of fairness is usually in the context of stakeholders or having paid into the system. For example, it’s fair that people who pay more taxes also get bigger tax cuts. It’s unfair that someone who already paid their debts (having already paid into the system) doesn’t get their debts forgiven. When liberals say it’s unfair that the poor do not get as big of a tax cut, they are not so much protesting unfairness but rather inequality. It’s illogical that people who pay no taxes are entitled to a tax cut or the same-size tax cut as someone who pays a lot in taxes, yet some liberals consider this to be be a convincing argument. Many of the left’s arguments for fairness are really just disguised arguments for some sort of redistribution.

Perhaps liberals put more faith in what they perceive as ‘science and reason’ (even if the science is dubious) whereas conservatives defer to tradition and faith, but liberalism also has historicism, which is like the left-wing analogue of theistic determinism.

1 comment

  1. “For example, many conservatives seem to support drug legalization and gay marriage, unlike three decades ago. ”

    Pulled to the left. They are leftists with a speed limit. Nothing more.

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