Liberalism FAQ
September 27, 2002 5:21 PM   Subscribe

Liberalism FAQ and Conservativism FAQ describe the differences (and similarities) between the two oft-discussed by seldom understood political mindsets. Both FAQs are detailed, concise, enjoyable, and not annoyingly biased. Read with caution: Knowing your enemies sometimes makes it less fun to bash on them.
posted by oissubke (25 comments total)
If anyone is aware of clearer or more accurate FAQs, please post a link. Thanks.
posted by oissubke at 5:22 PM on September 27, 2002

oissubke, great link! As a European currently living in the US, reading the Liberalism FAQ explained a lot. If only the L-word would mean the same on both sides of the Atlantic...

Liberalism (US) = Social Democracy (Europe)
Liberalism (Europe) = Libertarianism (US)

What do you think, is the above approximately accurate?
posted by Triplanetary at 5:33 PM on September 27, 2002

Interesting links. The Liberal FAQ seems to be a lot more biased than the Conservative FAQ... until you look at the front page of "On to Restoration," the source of the Conservative FAQ, which is refreshingly biased again. The best thing about reading both of these was remembering that I agree with some things from one FAQ and some things from the other. Ah, it isn't easy being a number 2 (sic) in a base 2 society.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:35 PM on September 27, 2002

Those are some cool links. I'm going to retreat and review

from the movie Patton " Rommell you brilliant son of a bitch, I read your book!"
posted by WLW at 5:37 PM on September 27, 2002

Triplanetary laid it out pretty well. This place better not get too ugly during election season, or I'm taking my belt off...

"traditionalist American conservatism" or neo-conservatism, or whatever you want to call it, and it is certainly not constrained to either party.
posted by insomnyuk at 5:53 PM on September 27, 2002

The conservatism FAQ uses the word "evolve" 5 times, the (short) liberalism FAQ doesn't use it at all!

And given the current situation where the left seems to be caving to the right at every turn in America, I'm guessing that one side has adapted/evolved better than the other.


Great links oissbuke.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:57 PM on September 27, 2002

great great great GREAT links!

personally, I've always viewed the differences between liberals and conservatives as thus: liberals want to make america better for the world's sake, and conservatives want to make america better for conservative's sake.
posted by mcsweetie at 6:10 PM on September 27, 2002

The Conservative case does not seem to be very honestly represented. For example, the section on ecology does not address the principal conservative concern, which is about government "takings", and interference with individuals' and corporations' perceived right to do as they choose with their private property. This, I am quite convinced, is at the core of conservative objections to environmentalism, and this document skirts that completely.

IMO it's a very, very soft-pedaled description that plays down or ignores the really divisive issues.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:13 PM on September 27, 2002

3.5 Aren't conservatives racist sexist homophobes?

Thats a FAQ?
posted by stbalbach at 6:54 PM on September 27, 2002

mcsweetie: liberals want to make america better for the world's sake, and conservatives want to make america better for conservative's sake.

I think this is a somewhat biased (and quite telling) description.
I would rather say: liberals presume to know what is better for the world's sake, and conservatives (apart from the fundie types) presume to only know what is good for their own sake.
posted by bokononito at 6:56 PM on September 27, 2002

IMO it's a very, very soft-pedaled description that plays down or ignores the really divisive issues.

I completely agree. Note also that they flounder when trying to show Libertarianism as Conservative, after they explained that Liberalism and Libertarianism both appeal to the individual. Quite a satisfying definition, really: when a Liberal appeals to the individual, it's "impulse and desire." When a Libertarian appeals to the individual, it's "independent and responsible." In other words, "If you want to think for yourself, go ahead. If you agree with me, you are a fine conservative Libertarian. If you do not, you are a slimy, hedonistic Liberal."

The article's so bad that I almost wonder if it was written as a subtle anti-conservatism piece. I tried to go into it with an open mind; maybe, I said to myself, I have been missing the fundamentals of conservative argument all these years. But come on: "We apprehend truth largely through tradition and in a way that cannot be fully articulated, and we cannot do otherwise." Conservatives actually admit this? I mean, it's pretty obvious that is what most Conservatives are doing, but I have thought they would have tried for at least a pretense of thought, analysis, articulation, and free will.
posted by quarantine at 6:58 PM on September 27, 2002

Stbalbach: I'm sure many outspoken conservatives hear it often enough that it deserved a place in any Frequently Asked Questions.

Honestly, though, something has always confused me - if you're for individual rights, logically shouldn't you adopt a pro-gun stance? An armed populace would seem to be the only deterrent to a non-representative government, so in order to prevent a corrupt government shouldn't one be against gun control? That's my thinking, at least. I've never understood this position belonging in the left, other than the very real possibility that most leftists (of which I count myself one) fit the 'squeamish wimp' stereotype.

Secondly, how can Libertarians be pro-corporate AND pro-individual simultaneously? Is it not obvious that collective engines of resource-acquisition (corporations), and ONLY resource acquisition will use all means at their disposal (including all but outright purchase of our supposed Congressional 'representatives') to prevent competition from individuals? Aren't the DMCA and CBDTPA proof of this? Or Senator Hollings' (proposer of the SSSCA/CBDTPA) top five contributors being major media companies proof of this? Isn't Microsoft's monopolist conviction proof of this? Aren't the actions of the Baby Bells proof of this? How many examples will it take until the Libertarian position seems ridiculous?

Both of these issues seem to evidence deep contradiction in mainstream liberal thought, and they both mark my own departures from it.
posted by Ryvar at 7:25 PM on September 27, 2002

VERY good links. Very thought-provoking.

I can't use trackback cuz I don't use Movable Type. Longform [self-link] was simply too long to go in here.


I used to assume I was a liberal democrat. In recent years I've questioned whether I'm a democrat. Now I'm questioning if I'm a liberal. I KNOW I'm not a republican or a conservative.

So what the hell am I?
posted by ZachsMind at 7:50 PM on September 27, 2002

ZachsMind: So what the hell am I?

As I said before, American politics is a binary system. You and I are not a "0" or a "1," so, IMO, we are "2." If there are enough of us, we can crash the program. Woot!
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:11 PM on September 27, 2002

Liberalism (Europe) = Libertarianism (US)

No, not really. It's been the Liberal Democrats' conference this week, and their strand of liberalism has libertarian elements designed to piss off the Daily Mail ('porn for people who can legally fuck? that's Satanism!'), but is nowhere close to the 'government! evil! taxes! evil!' US libertarian movement. In fact, the Lib Dems want more taxes than NuLabour, but they want you to know that they're spending it on Things That Are Good For You.

I think the belief that elements of European liberalism (which is really the 'social democratic' tradition in post-war Europe) are 'libertarian' is probably born from US politics being so illiberal, no matter what you say about the Democrats. I know for sure that the British Tories, were they transplanted to the US, would be considered to the left of the Democrats. In the end, though, US libertarianism is a political vacuum which occupies a political vacuum.

If you spend any time looking at political history, which I was forced to do, you'll find that between 'liberal' and 'conservative' philosophies, there's often not much to separate them. (Classic case: Gladstone and Disraeli.) But from what I can gather, 'liberal' in the US has been twisted by its enemies to mean little more than a polite expletive. Nothing new, though: that's what party names used to be.
posted by riviera at 8:13 PM on September 27, 2002

So what the hell am I?

Depends what your beliefs are. Liberalism and Conservatism aren't the ends of the spectrum -- if anything, they're in the middle, and it's the philosophies like anarchism, libertarianism, socialism, communism, etc., that flesh out the other portions of it.

Many people fit squarely into one category or the other, but are loathe to admit it, thinking themselves above categories. Perhaps you are one of them! (j/k)
posted by oissubke at 8:32 PM on September 27, 2002

how can Libertarians be pro-corporate AND pro-individual simultaneously? -- Ryvar

Libertarians would say the evils of corporations are caused by government regulation. Corporation and Individualism are not exclusive except in a Monopoly situation and monopolies are created through Government regulation preventing competition.
posted by stbalbach at 8:35 PM on September 27, 2002

I'm pretty sure that once, liberalism meant the same thing on both sides of the Atlantic, and that liberalism *did* equal libertarianism; if not as extreme.

And Ryvar,
the pro government stance of liberals is something that happened over the first part of the 20th century, as communism gained popularity.

I am no liberal arts man, and I do not know the extent of political science education, but I recommend F. A. Hayek's, "The Road to Serfdom", if only for an explanation, biased or not, of the transformation of liberalism from its originally strictly individualistic ideals to its current progovernment state in the United States now.

Hayek believed that it was the insidious influence of communism that corrupted American liberalism, turning it away from the original continental vision, and that the progovernment & pro individual stance of American liberalism *is* fatally contradictory and flawed.
posted by firestorm at 10:22 PM on September 27, 2002

btw of *course* libertarian individualism is seen as independent and responsible b/c the libertarian ideology tends to be less.. empathic, touchy feely, and thus you are disconnected, separate from your peers, whereas American liberalism is, stereotyped at least, empathic, softy, to the point of believing in communism ;)
posted by firestorm at 10:24 PM on September 27, 2002

perhaps i'm mistaken, but my thinking on gun "liberal's gun control" is not an anti-gun stance. it is merely a anti-mentally-ill-having-a-gun stance. of course, who decides who should and should not have a gun is a different problem altogether. i'm all for a well-armed populace, as long as you can wait the 14 days and jump through the hoops.

for what it's worth, i too have moved away from the more libertarian position of the mostly unregulated economy (pro-corporation) to the more liberal pro-individual viewpoint. It could be that i've just read "Profit Over People" by Chomsky.
posted by escher at 10:48 PM on September 27, 2002

Very useful link. Thanks. But I wonder just how valid these old right-left definitions still are.

Does anyone know of any links for FAQ's or interesting definitions of Authoritarianism and Libertarianism?
posted by donfactor at 12:51 AM on September 28, 2002

Liberals are filled with Guilt; conservatives filled with Rage.
posted by Postroad at 3:54 AM on September 28, 2002

Damn, I actually agree with mcsweetie about something. The world will now end.

Good links, thanks.

I agree, we need a Libertarian FAQ (also known as the Cat-herding FAQ). No one will admit to being an Authoritarian, so perhaps we should find a Populist FAQ instead.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:01 AM on September 28, 2002

Actually, I would be an authoritarian... depending on the regime in question, of course. That's always been the problem with that system; even if you start out with your wise, benevolent government, how can you ensure their successors will be equally good? And that whole power-corrupting thing.

So even though it has a certain appeal -- because there's no doubt in my mind that the people, as a whole, do not know what's best for them (see HL Mencken, "deserve to get it good and hard"), I'd rather see the whole spontaneous-order anarchism thing. Because, on an individual level, if they screw up their lives, that's simply their problem. They'll learn, or eliminate themselves from the gene pool.

Anarchism could work in a small, like-minded community. A direct democracy would work nicely in that situation too. Unfortunately, we have no such units of government in these times.
posted by e^2 at 1:18 PM on September 28, 2002

But come on: "We apprehend truth largely through tradition and in a way that cannot be fully articulated, and we cannot do otherwise." Conservatives actually admit this? I mean, it's pretty obvious that is what most Conservatives are doing...

Are you saying you don't believe this? That our apprehension of truth is shaped by our background and culture? And that even an attempt to give an account of how that works is shaped by the traditions in which we have learned to think? Maybe you'd never considered it before, but it seems obvious to me once it is pointed out.

Best philosopher I know on this subject is Alasdair MacIntyre. There's a pretty good summary of some of his work in this article.
posted by straight at 9:21 PM on September 28, 2002

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