University Professors Detail History, Meaning of ‘Liberal’, ‘Conservative’ Political Labels | Way of life
TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma — Although now intertwined with modern political parties, “liberal” and “conservative” ideologies have a long history, as two political science professors from a Northeast University recently explained. Oklahoma.
Northeastern State University associate professor Christopher Weaver, who holds a doctorate in political science, traced those words through time.
“While the word ‘liberal’ has variously referred to ‘freedom’ for centuries, as a political ideology, ‘liberal’ dates back to the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries,” Weaver said. “It began with an emphasis on individual rights and the legitimate power of government rooted in the consent of the governed. It responded to a status quo in which individual citizens had few civil liberties or protections from government, and rulers often claimed to rule by divine right.”
The word “conservative” has different roots.
“‘Conservative’ has always been a more contextual or situational ideology that responds to the politics of its time. It has often been associated with a defense of tradition or the status quo, against more radical or progressive movements”, a- he declared.
Assistant Professor Alex Cole, also with a doctorate in political science, said conservatism arose in the 19th century as a response to liberalism and the Napoleonic conquest in Europe.
“In Europe, being conservative means loving royal authority and seeing rights as a reflection of one’s position or place in society,” Cole said. “At its core, liberalism is a defense of equal liberty and individual rights, and conservatism is a defense of hierarchy and tradition.”
Cole said this pattern is much more complicated in the United States, because both liberals and conservatives are “liberal” insofar as they seek to uphold individual rights; they just don’t agree on the best way to do it. The main “fault line” between American liberals and conservatives, he said, lies in the role of government.
“For liberals, individuals can only be free if there is substantial economic equality and safeguards for personal expression guaranteed by state action. For conservatives, economic equality can be detrimental to freedom and the ability to earn a living through market competition trumps freedom of speech in many ways,” Cole said. “The common ground between these groups is a belief in individual rights as the primary American value that the law seeks to uphold, but they differ greatly on what that freedom entails and how it should be practiced.”
Both of these terms have changed over the years, Weaver explained.
“Over time, the tenets of classical liberalism – individual rights, limited government, government consent, etc. – have become more widely accepted and as a result more parties have claimed the label,” he said. .
Weaver said some use the term to refer to further removal of social restrictions — such as those on same-sex marriage — even though early liberals may not have extended protections that far.
“Others see the role of liberals as pushing back against traditional authority, as early liberals did against the monarchy,” Weaver said. “Nevertheless, many tenets of liberalism are now the status quo, and thus conservatives may also consider themselves liberals in the classical sense.”
Ultimately, he said, an ideological label is more than just a set of philosophical ideas; it is a group of people united by a common identity.
“People who consider themselves liberal or conservative can change their beliefs, and therefore arguably change the meaning of the label,” Weaver said. “Similarly, ‘conservative’ can change drastically depending on the exact status quo one is advocating.”
Weaver said “liberal” has long been less popular than “conservative” or “moderate” in terms of American self-identification.
“For example, fewer Americans have long identified as ‘liberal’ than have identified as members of the Democratic Party,” he said. “In a way, identification or disidentification with a label is a result of how members of that group are portrayed in the wider culture and media.”
Weaver thinks it’s still remarkable how long these terms have endured.
“There are a number of possible ideological labels, and many have been used in the United States and around the world. Nonetheless, these have tended to dominate the way Americans describe themselves and others,” said he declared. “To stick around, they had to be used and understood in fairly flexible terms.”
Weaver said while it may be tempting to think Americans will adopt new ideological labels, he suspects it will be difficult for others to supplant them in the immediate future.
“Nevertheless, it’s still important to keep in mind that many Americans don’t actually view themselves in ideological terms, let alone strictly adhere to a consistent set of ideological beliefs,” Weaver said. “Terms are much more likely to change meaning than to change usage or popularity.”