The political world has always been divided, in one way or another, between liberals and conservatives. Two conflicting ideologies that have occupied the power of the res publica in a cyclical manner. They take various names, such as the left and the right , although in essence they remain the same
. Below we review the main differences between these two antagonistic mentalities of global politics . Of course, we must emphasize that not everything is summed up between liberalism and conservatism, and there are also other important currents such as authoritarianism or anarchism.
- To learn more: Anarchism: what it is, definition and characteristics.
What is liberalism?
The main characteristic of liberals is that they seek to limit state intervention in the individual as much as possible . That everyone is free to exercise their rights, always within the limits of some guidelines. It is, therefore, a philosophy diametrically opposed to authoritarianism and the extreme right, which seeks the protection of an ironclad and controlling state.
On the other hand, it defends representative democracy, that is, that citizens have their representation in parliament through political parties. In some cases, liberalism is synonymous with republicanism , so the figure of a king (sovereign by the grace of God) is completely expendable.
social vs economic liberalism
Although it was born under the same political discipline, today it makes no sense to put social liberalism and economic liberalism in the same bag. As we have already indicated, the social tries to prioritize individual freedoms. The second, however, is more related to the concept of free markets .
The result is that the defenders of economic liberalism feel more affinity for a conservative social policy . This kind of internal crisis is very typical of the left, which always invites internal discrepancy in each of the political aspects.
What is conservatism
In political matters, conservatives pursue the perpetuity of a single institution or particular group in political power. These groups often defend tradition and religion as absolute values of society. For this reason, conservative groups are opposed to new ideas that question these values, such as abortion or homosexuality.
8 basic differences between liberals and conservatives
We review the main differences between these two thoughts, depending on whether they refer to social and political issues or economic issues.
1. Social issues
We begin with the differences in the aspects that affect society as a whole.
1.1 Values and freedoms
The basic value for a liberal is the freedom of the individual, freedom of action and thought always within the margins of legality. Therefore, liberals have always been strong defenders of human rights, while their opponents have been concerned with other social issues and have defended collective values.
- To know more: The 30 fundamental rights of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Historically, liberalism has opposed religious institutions because it understands that they are not necessary for the development of society. On the contrary, conservatism wants to preserve religion and understands that it is an institution that guarantees the morality of the individual and the family unit.
1.3 Social structure
Although there are many cases, the conservative parties prefer a differentiated social structure . Each family unit must occupy a place in society based on its economic success (which, moreover, is subject to the state). Liberals tend to promote policies to blur that structure.
1.4 Individual and family
For the liberals, the individual is the minimum expression of the whole of society. On the contrary, conservatism tends to use concepts such as «nation» or «family» , considering that society is stronger if it relies on a single group. The highest expression of this idea is fascism, a form of radical conservatism.
1.5 Nationalism and internationalism
The concept of “nation” is of great importance for the most conservative politics. That nation encompasses shared values and identity that must be defended. The liberal current frontally rejects these self-imposed borders and focuses its thinking towards international or supranational politics (a great entity that directs all nations).
1.6 State and democracy
At this point we must point out that not all conservative sectors proclaim the same thing . There are political parties that have been branded conservative and defend democratic values tooth and nail.
However, it is true that, historically, conservatism has protected itself under the idea of a state that imposes guidelines on the population. On the other hand, liberalism is inclined towards the democratic participation of all citizens, whatever the object that is being debated.
2. Economic issues
At this point we must clarify the nomenclature. In what follows we do not refer to economic liberalism(current defender of the free market), but of the aspects defended by the most liberal and progressive parties in the economy.
2.1 Private and public sector
For conservatives, the private sector can provide most of the services and more efficiently (education, health or transport). Instead, liberalism enhances public services so that they are available to any individual and are of quality.
2.2 Distribution of wealth
Although this difference is not presented explicitly, liberals do not see favorably the growing gap between rich and poor. Although the elimination of classes is a utopian goal (see communism), a more equitable distribution can always be sought. In this sense, liberalism takes into account disadvantaged groups or introduces concepts such as the minimum income.
- You can also read: 6 differences and similarities between fascism and communism.