I am pleased to present this article on the real meanings of “conservative” and “liberal” written by my friend John Ruane. John holds a Masters Degree in Modern European History, is currently retired and lives with his wife in Florida. The points John makes in this article are particularly relevant to the state of our nation today, as we witness congressional impasse after impasse with little to no effective effort at really confronting and solving our problems. With that in mind, here is John Ruane on the real meanings of “Liberal” and “Conservative”. Please read on…MA  

John Ruane with his wife

John Ruane (with his wife)

One of the things which I believe is used to divide our country is the idea of “conservatives” versus “liberals.” Both “conservative” and “liberal” used to mean different approaches to solving social and political problems. Today, their actual meanings have been lost and the words are used to identify specific stances on particular issues. This distorts their meaning so much that the value of both approaches is obscured and the country gets stuck with stubborn people on different sides of issues rather than having different approaches to solving problems.

Until fairly recently “conservative” meant that one’s approach to resolving problems was through a society’s current institutions. The “Father of Conservatism” was Edmund Burke (1729-1797), a British parliamentarian.

Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke

Burke believed that society was held together by the institutions within a society and that any new social or political changes should be slowly adapted into society through the institutions. By institutions is meant any of the organizations, such as the government, schools, churches, and other social organizations.

Burke’s opposite was none other than Thomas Paine (1737-1809). Paine believed that certain principles always improve conditions in the long run, no matter what the immediate consequences are. So these principles should be put into affect right away, regardless of any temporary setbacks. Principles such as free speech, the right for all citizens to vote, and civil rights for all are examples of some of these principles.

So what were the Founding Fathers—conservative or liberal?

Clearly, they were both. They used and believed in both approaches. As written by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is a very liberal declaration on the principle of rights.

In the Declaration Jefferson also wrote, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” This is a very conservative declaration that says it is not wise to change the government for insignificant reasons or for the latest fad or short term solution.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

The true wisdom of the Founding Fathers was in creating a political system and finding the proper balance between liberal principles and conservative action.

Today the politicians and their supporters who call themselves “conservatives” are not really conservative nor are the ones that call themselves “liberal” really liberals. Shutting down the government for light and transient causes, as the “conservatives” in Congress often attempt to do, is not conservative.

Identifying with groups and voting blocs instead of principles is not being liberal. Blocking attempts to improve education because one supports a teacher or some other union is being concerned with immediate consequences rather than education principles.

Unfortunately, almost all the politicians I am aware of attempt to maintain the status quo of pretending they are really conservative or liberal. In fact they are just pushing particular issues to gain support while really representing the financial interests that are financing their campaigns.

My earnest advice is don’t fall for the conservative/liberal fight; it is a smokescreen to hide the real interests and ambitions of politicians and those financing them.

Copyright © 2015

By John Ruane

All Rights Reserved

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