Liberalism and Conservatism

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Views on: History|Progress (tomorrow will be better than today), evolution (slow, incremental progress is inevitable and should be encouraged); sometimes need for more radical change|“Conserve” traditions and institutions like the monarchy and the family; recognize what is valuable from the past. Order and stability is more important than “progress”| The economy|Free markets, less government intervention, and free trade will provide greatest benefits to most people|Regulation of markets and trade by government may be necessary to preserve social order| The individual and society|Individual rights are inherent (not something “given” to us by governments), and all individuals are equal in worth. We should try to turn this into practical equality in the real world.|“Man” is fallen, fundamentally imperfect and sinful. Individuals cannot be “improved” as liberals think. Inequality is in many cases “natural” and will always exist. | Political system|Should be “bottom-up”; people should govern themselves|Should preserve some “top-down” powers (e.g. the monarchy and aristocracy) so the better-educated, wiser elite can make good choices for everyone|

Important points to remember:

The everyday use of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” (for example, referring to the Conservative Party in Canada) may not fit the categories above, which emerged in the 18th century in Europe. Even in the 18th century, there was more than one type of “liberal” and “conservative.” For example, liberal reformers believed that government should sometimes intervene in the economy to promote social equality, as with public education programs or social assistance for the poor. Other liberals felt that the government had no role in intervening in the economy.
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