Liberalism & Conservatism



An ideology is “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.” It’s a system of political theories and values.

The term was coined during the by Antoine Destutt de Tracy (1754-1883) in 1796 “as a name for his own ‘science of ideas.’”

Destutt_de_TracyAn ideology has seven characteristics;

  1. A coherent set of views on politics
  2. Produced by intellectual elites
  3. Dissemination among the mass population
  4. Subject to alteration
  5. Susceptible to distortion and oversimplification
  6. Powerful motivators of human behavior
  7. Manipulated by political movement leaders

What is “Liberalism”? 

Liberalism is a liberty tradition philosophy that portrays a favorable view of the state, stresses autonomous citizens, and is a vital aspect of a free society. Liberalism acknowledges that citizens have diverse perspectives regarding various issues and therefore, valuing autonomy.

Within Liberalism, primary social goods are required for a sovereign, moral society. According to Rawls, these goods consist of “the basic rights and liberties; freedom of movement, and free choice among a wide range of occupations; the powers of offices and positions of responsibility; income and wealth; the social bases of self-respect: the recognition by social institutions that give citizens a sense of self-worth and the confidence to carry out their plans.”  How citizens enjoy these primary social goods is determined by society’s basic structure, encompassed by the economy, legal system, workplaces, and family, to name a few. Citizens within a nation-state depend on society for social goods, which are usually determined by institutional arrangements. Privilege is natural, but in liberalism, people are entitled to the same amount of “social goods” regardless of their place in society.

Social goods are as follows:

  • Basic rights and liberties
  • Freedom of choice
  • Powers of offices and positions of responsibility (think government)
  • Income and wealth
  • Self-Respect
  • Social Institutions (schools, hospitals, churches, etc.)

In order for a good to be considered a social good, they must make the citizens feel worthy.

Liberalism is an ideology that puts emphasis on fairness. In society, people have varying strengths and weaknesses; some are academics while others are laborers. Although society may value and reward specific strengths over others, everyone, regardless of their abilities, must be on a level playing field in order to develop their respective talents equally.

A common misconception regarding liberalism is that it may encourage the idea of government “handouts” and ignore the ideology’s redistributive values. Those who are liberals, “tend to favor more government intervention in order to promote social and economic equality. For example, liberals endorse minimum wage laws, arguing that without government intervention businesses will take advantage of employees and economic inequality will increase. On the other hand, liberals tend to oppose government intervention into areas of private life, such as laws restricting contraception or same-sex marriage.”

Liberalism favors the use of state power, although the government should not be distributive. The government exists to regulate function, structural, institutional, and social arrangements where primary social goods are fairly distributed systematically. Additionally, within the ideology, personal autonomy, the right or condition of self-government, is essential. Therefore, the government must remain neutral and protect rights by implementing laws.

Under liberalism, elected officials must refrain from mandating an official religion, language, or any aspect that may influence one’s ideals given that citizens forming their personal view of the world is a vital aspect of society.

What is “Conservatism”?

Traditionalist conservatism prides itself on conserving tradition and minimal government involvement. Previous generations create lifestyles, furthermore passed down, generating valuable traditions. Safeguarding these aspects is vital for citizens living sound lives., moreover, allowing society to prosper.

Traditionalist conservatism argues against any change. Conservatism values the traditions created by previous generations that have shaped society today. Conservatives believe that changing the status quo can be disastrous, potentially compromising traditional society; therefore, lawmakers must be careful whenever implementing incremental changes. Conservatives stress the magnitude of the encumbered self, which obligates individuals to partake in communities since having relationships with other citizens is an example of a vital tradition.

Additionally, conservatism believes fairness is overrated, acting selfishly is an innate behavior, and rendering traditions is critical for keeping humans in line.

According to traditionalist conservatism, the role of the government varies based on how compliant society is to a tradition. In the instance where a community follows a tradition, the government should have a limited intervention. When following traditions, citizens are considered to be living good and prosperous lives, granting those flourishing communities a significant amount of autonomy. When handling a society that disobeys tradition, the government may intervene; however, on the economic side, conservatism believes the government’s default should be hands-off.

Another aspect of the state is the rejection of being a neutral entity. Unlike liberalism where citizens are free and encouraged to develop their personal beliefs without outside interference, traditionalist conservatives believe that certain beliefs will lead individuals away from traditional life.

Contrasting from liberal policy, conservatism concurs with other right-wing political philosophies in keeping a small state. Laissez-faire policies where wealthy individuals redistribute their finances through trickle-down economics is a crucial ideology of conservatism. The premise that capitalism leads certain individuals to build prosperous businesses which then creates a rippling effect of opportunities. The working-class benefits from salaried job opportunities, thereby creating discretionary income for luxury items, which further boosts the economy.

A better economic infrastructure leads to further financial gains for businesses of all sizes from Amazon and the Walt Disney Corporation to “mom and pops” shops and flea-market vendors, creating additional opportunities for the working class.


Baehr, Amy. Philosophy, Public Life and the State. (Unpublished manuscript, on file with the author).

Hamilton, Andy, “Conservatism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =         <>.

Image courtesy of Martin Falbisoner, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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