Compare and Contrast Modern Conservatism and Modern Liberalism

Topics: Liberalism, Conservatism, Classical liberalism Pages: 7 (2545 words) Published: December 6, 2011
Compare and Contrast Modern Conservatism and Modern Liberalism

Modern liberalism and modern conservatism are both extremely centrist ideologies, “In fact, US conservatism comes out of classical liberalism so the modern versions of both ideologies share deep philosophical roots” (Guide, pg. 1). These roots date back to the 17th century, extending into the early 20th century. To fully understand American politics, it is a key to understand the dominant ideologies. It is also crucial to analyze the differences and similarities between these two ideologies. This paper will first examine the origins and tenants of classical liberalism, an ideology in which both modern liberalism and modern conservatism evolved. It will later discuss the major principles and tenants governing both ideologies. Finally, it will analyze and contrast modern day conservatism and liberalism according the current environment of the present day.

Understanding classical liberalism is essential to fully comprehend the ideals of modern liberalism and modern conservatism. Classical liberalism evolved from opposition to “divine rights of Kings” (PowerPoints, Classical Liberalism, pg. 2). One of the core principles in the presumption in favor of liberty is the “Fundamental Liberal Principal” (Guide, pg. 3). This principal states that freedom is a basic right and that laws must be justified so as not to limit the freedom of citizens. To provide a modern day example of this, the Los Angeles Times recently published an article about an intoxicated man whose racist online post about Barack Obama in 2008 urged violence. A core decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the man’s conviction. He was initially found guilty two years ago but in the later ruling his blog was considered his right to free speech and not considered a legitimate threat to Barack Obama’s security. In this case, the law protected the rights of an individual over the security of a presidential candidate. In the past, liberals disagreed about the basic concept of liberty in terms of the role of government. There were two types of liberty, negative and positive. Negative liberty defines the role of government as ensuring that individuals do not obstruct another individual’s freedom without significant justification. Therefore, it is important that we restrict government institutions from gaining too much control over individual freedom, “We must restrain institutions that may endanger liberty” (PowerPoints, Classical Liberalism, pg. 4). Conversely, positive freedom is when a person acts with one’s own convictions to pursue their own objectives, “a person is free only if she is self-directed or autonomous” (Guide, page 5). The concepts of liberty vary, as discussed above. A more critical division of liberty pertains to the place of private property and the market order. Classical liberals from the 18th century to the present claimed that liberty and property are basically the same thing, “liberty and private property are intimately related” (Guide, pg. 8). Each individual should be able to run their business the way they see fit and are not really free unless allowed to do so. With the advent of industrialization, democratization, and economic upheaval modern day liberalism took root and evolved into a different definition of government versus liberty.

The definition of modern liberalism came into play in the early 20th century when they began to question the private property based market. The idea of “social justice or the welfare state” (Guide, pg. 9) rose from the economic downturns created by the great depression and World War II. These events spurred a new faith in government as a way to oversee economic conditions, “this was partly due to the experiences of the First World War, in which government attempts at economic planning seemed to succeed (Dewey, 1929: 551-60)” (Guide, pg. 9). Franklin D Roosevelt’s new deal was evidence of government being...
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