We hear this question often in our lives, if we are a political person ourselves.
I recently heard a response to this question that I disagree with but I still believe desires to be heard. I am afraid I cannot offer it as anything but anecdote.
Response: “Think in terms of kind and unkind.”
While this sentiment starts to address the huge gap between these ideologies it only touches the most bare and stereotypical edges of the matter.
It is hard to identify one single clear ‘line in the sand’ on this issue to illustrate and thus it becomes a little troublesome to answer simply.
The truth of the matter is more that historically both liberals and conservatives morph and relocate themselves throughout the political spectrum in all nations. Only certain key values and standards define each group and it is easier to grab one specific location and timeframe than to just say all liberals or conservatives are so.
Modern American liberals are clearly defined against modern American conservatives in terms of their views of separation of church and state.
Modern American liberals are clearly defined against modern American conservatives in terms of their views of the use of military budgets and international policies.
These kind of statements are the only real response to this question and it is obviously verbose to try to answer this question with what sounds like reading a textbook at someone.
It is said sometimes that these groups are defined by the members they attract. I believe this only partly defines the ideology and the group. The common views and desires are the true backbone of every movement.
Some claim the liberal movements to attract the more ‘fringe’ elements of society while conservative attracts a more ‘common’ element of society.
That may have been true in days past but in our world, right now, the conservative movement has attracted the truly fringe elements of our society in the past national campaign and to this day on talk radio and certain websites. Unquestionable willful destruction of non-partisan debate is expressly un-American.
I think my answer to this question is more like an answer one might get from Yoda or some wandering mystic.
“Ask me again when you know which one you are.”
I think if someone is even asking they are just fresh into politics and all political types, even myself, must claw backwards into our memories to a time when we were apolitical and remember that nobody comes out of the womb with a position on taxation rates.
We form all these things we call ‘opinions’ as we go. So cut a break to people who were spacing out on their nation when we needed them the most because we still need them now that they are paying attention.
I think I was wrong here. The best way to understand what a liberal is and what a conservative is in this day and age is exactly what was said in the first response here: think in terms of kind and unkind.