What do the terms “liberal” and “conservative” mean?

Nate wrote a post that got me thinking: What do people mean when they say “conservative” and “liberal?” Some say Obama is the most “liberal” senator. I’m not sure what makes him so liberal. So, is Mccain a “conservative?” If so, why is he tagged as such?

Can someone please explain to me what the terms “liberal” and “conservative” mean?


14 responses to this post.

  1. Well it is not easy to in a few words to explain the two terms “liberal” and “conservative”. So I might miss some details but here we go 😉

    Conservatives basically wants to conserve the status Q. Now this means that they want a small government, and to preserve the dominant values in the nation, in the case of America that would be religious and family values. Since all governments starts out being small it also implies that they are interested in small government.

    Liberalism has actually two meanings. The old European meaning would be more in lines with libertarians where the focus is on personally freedom and small regularly government. In the “Modern American” meaning it is more like socialism, where the idea is that everyone contribute to the government through Taxes, and then everyone benefits from the governmental institutions like universal healthcare, welfare and so on.

    Now this is still a board generalisation and also you have to remember that it is ideology and not pragmatic politics. But I hope that it have helped you a bit to understand what it means to be either liberal or conservative.


  2. Nick, thanks for your comments.

    I’m curious as to what the original meanings to these labels were.


  3. McCain is not a true conservative, and is considered a moderate by most.

    Many modern conservatives (like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others) are NEO-conservatives. Neo-conservatives are for big government and big military. In essence, neo-conservatives and liberals are both for big government and lots of spending.

    Other than that, it’s all semantics.


  4. I think that is more and more what I’m growing to understand. The original understanding of conservative is in reference to interpretation to the constitution.

    A true “conservative” would be someone who thinks we ought to hold to the ideas that are in the constitution and not extend policies or powers of government that aren’t granted in the constitution (makes me think of Ron Paul).

    A true “liberal” would be one who believes that the government has more authority than what is given to it in the constitution. For example, the constitution gives no stance on homosexuality or abortion or budgeting for road construction or reliance on foreign oil. Therefore, a liberal would see a necessity to extend the government’s authority and power to other areas.

    so in that sense, today’s democrats and republicans are both “liberals”

    which makes it funny to hear republicans bash democrats by calling them “liberals” and blaming the problems of america on “liberal” polititions (cuz, in reality, all politicians are “liberal” )


    • Posted by Rick Pace on July 6, 2010 at 12:57 pm

      I dont know what country you live in sir but in the USA its the conservatives that are trying to extend government onto issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia. Liberals usually prefer to allow the free will of the individual to determine how they choose to associate themselves with these issues.


  5. Having dealt with business politics, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that it’s more about positioning and power plays than about issues. Making your team look good and making the other team look bad is the way the game is played. And it is a game, like a chess match.

    Case in point: GWB defends his choice to go into Iraq, even now. Democrats condemned him for not admitting he made a mistake…If Bush had backed down and admitted that Iraq was a bad decision, Democrats would have jumped all over that, pointing out how GWB admitted he made a mistake.

    It’s not about truth, but public relations, and if you want to keep your job, you have to play the game to some degree, because the opposition is always looking for a weakness to exploit. And while money and power are primary motivators, there are plenty of people who honestly believe they can do a better job than the other guy.


  6. Posted by Adam Morris on October 6, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Wow. I had to write a paper on exactly what you guys are talking about. My professor has been explaining this for a month now and i was so lost. He’s never made something that clear in one paragraph. You’re a genius Nick. Thank You. haha


  7. […] It was in my AP (Advanced Placement) U.S. History class while preparing for the AP History exam (I was a HS junior) that I learned conservativism and liberalism are philosophies on how to interpret and apply the Constitution. They have NOTHING to do with abortion or gay rights. Conservatism is the belief that the letter of the Constitution should be interpreted literally; it is a document for all time. Liberalism is the belief that the Constitution is a flexible document; its meaning changes with the times and can be interepreted and applied less literally. (Replace Constitution with Bible and you get conservatism vs. liberation theology in the churches.) Liberalism in politics keeps turning more and more power and responsibility over to the government that was not defined in our Constitution. Conservatism wants to return these additional powers and responsibilities to the states and to the citizens. For instance, the Constitution does NOT provide for a Department of Education or No Child Left Behind policy. Aaron Monts asked what the difference is between conservative and liberal in his blog //re:generate and got the same answer from the first commenter, Adam Lehman, who also posed the same question in his blog Ramblings of Passion. […]


  8. […] Montz wrote a blog post about some­thing that has both­ered me for a while. He asks the ques­tion: What is the dif­fer­ence between a “lib­eral” and a […]


  9. Posted by terry on September 23, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    this makes no sense this is a dumb web site


  10. […] Montz wrote a blog post about something that has bothered me for a while. He asks the question: What is the difference between a “liberal” and a […]


  11. Posted by Bryan on January 5, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    This is a useful website. Thanks for the information, guys. To review:

    The Constitution is flexible.
    Turn more power and responsibility to the US Government.
    The government has additional authority over what the Constitution says.
    Government will goes.

    Return additional powers to the states and citizens.
    Don’t stray from the US Constitution.
    Preserve the dominant national values.
    Free will of the individual is right.


  12. Posted by jon on October 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    bryan’s comment is easiest to understand.


  13. I’ve read several just right stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how much effort you set to create this kind of magnificent informative site.


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