Since we’re on a roll posting about the differences between liberals and conservatives (or is it conservatives and liberals) I thought I’d go at it from a slightly different tack. This treatise (getting a big head are we?) is based on only one concept, how each faction (more like each segment) defines power and its use.
Politics is about power. It always has been and always will be. Government is power in a practical public sense. Government forms, secures and enforces public policy, which power to do so is given to it, in a democracy, by the people, through their constitutional right to vote. (One of these days we’ll look into the difference between constitutional rights and god given rights) (Are you tired of these not so clever parenthetical asides yet?)(OK I’ll stop).
So it follows that one difference between liberals and conservatives would be a difference of opinion about what power really is and who truly wields it. Since goal 1 of the politician is gaining office, i.e. political power, and goal 1A is maintaining it, differences in the perception of power inform a great deal of what politicians are about, both in theory and practice. Starting with how they wage campaigns, all the way through how they formulate policy and propose legislation, their ideas about power are an important aspect of their ideology and it’s promotion.
I reference no science here. I know of no studies or research on the subject of political power and it’s party specific dynamics, although I’m sure there must be some. Unlike other nameless actors in the media play, I have no desire to claim my opinions are science. These are solely my opinions, forged through observation of both the say and the do on the bridge between hypothesis and action. Because of the apparent death and rigor mortis of non partisan cooperation in Washington, and many state houses as well, I’m sure my opinions can only be speculative and not viable. I wish they were. And, as you will see, unfortunately, I am horribly biased as well.
The primary conservative vision of power is the acquisition and application of money. Money is the thing they value most. It gets them the things they want. Money has traditionally been the standard used to confer social status onto the wealthy. This status imparts important things to the rich person, things they need to imagine they are happy. Other people, often poor people who also value money above all, look up to the wealthy and aspire to be wealthy. They covet what the wealthy have and what they can get. They gladly hand over their socioeconomic and political power to the wealthy, feeling the rich have proven their ability to wield that power, based on the benchmark of their ability to accumulate wealth. These folk see the wealthy as superior but their egos tell them they are also superior and will someday be wealthy themselves, thus proving their superiority. In essence they worship the rich. This worship can easily give the wealthy a false sense of superiority and cause them to resent those who criticize them. They feel they are above criticism and scrutiny. They need the worship to give them a feeling of self worth. They are frightened people who are scared of change, of losing their status and the power they value that goes with it.
Conservatives also value the power of authority. This comes primarily from their belief that a hierarchy of authority, whether through the power of money or of wisdom or tenure, keeps society disciplined and morally in line. People who need discipline and need an external source of ideas, also display worship of authority and think their leaders as superior. They follow unfailingly those arbiters of the acceptable, whether familial, religious, political etc., because, once again, the authorities have proven their moral superiority. They depend on their leaders to tell them how to live. They are happy to abrogate their power, the power to discover their own set of values, to the authority figures and their prefab values. They are also scared, frightened of doing wrong out of wrong thinking. They don’t trust themselves to grow and progress any further than their ancestors did. They wait patiently, until they have their own families and own status in the community. They are then handed the power of authority, power they can wield themselves, over their own particular fiefdom.
It is not difficult for conservatives to accept authoritarian rule. They accept that the wealthy, or those who the wealthy support, are best suited to rule. They come from a system where dissent is discouraged; because reliance on rules protects the people from themselves. They harbor the idea that if they work hard enough and play by the rules, they will attain the power of wealth and authority for themselves. However, all the time, they are aware that the real way to attain power is to ignore the rules until you have enough power to discard them. But only those with authority have the luxury to do that with impunity.
So conservatives are mostly rich people afraid of losing what they have plus poor people who are scared of failure and desperate for success. They feed off each other, providing what the other needs most. They want everybody to submit to their values, not only because they are completely certain they are right about everything but because they have doubts, deep inside, that they might just be wrong. These doubts need to be buried even deeper in order for them to function. Seeing others who have different values makes them question that righteousness, and they can’t have that. If they can get everybody to accept their vision and their values, then those doubts disappear.
Finally, conservatives believe that power and wealth are finite and scarce. Because of this they are perpetually haunted by fear. Fear of not not being good enough to get their share of the pie, and fear of not being good enough to keep others from taking the share they have. In the struggle to accumulate and keep as much of the scare commodity of power it’s every man for himself. So in essence conservatives are motivated by getting and keeping power, in the form of money and authority. Their politics reflects this world view.
As you may imagine, liberals have quite a different vision of power. To them power is collective. it comes from the bottom up and not the top down. Power is people. It is attained through finding the ever changing nature of the greater good, nurturing and maintaining it for everyone, with equal opportunity for a life of meaning and peace of mind. Liberals worship the balance between the welfare of the self and the welfare of society. Power is not the finite, scarce commodity of money, to be competitively gathered, through any means, and hoarded for no good purpose other than to gloat. Power is limitless and abundant, and comes in many forms, with money being only one among many. Power is accumulated not individually through competition, but collectively through cooperation.
This is not to say the liberal does not value money. Money has real value and purpose. The accumulation of it is not so much proof of an individual’s superiority but more so an application of an individual’s gifts and skill. The power of money is not in using it to get what one wants but to assure everyone gets what they need.
Liberals are more inclined to recognize and respect the value of all people, regardless of economic or social standing. They respect authority rather than worship it. Neither do they worship those who have money and keep it for themselves but rather those who have money and happily give some of it back to the government and the people, so that together we create more of the abundance that gives us the comfort of knowing there is enough for all.
Liberals view the authority of leadership not as a rigid hierarchy of dominance but as a means to make and enforce rules that benefit all. Instead of quanta of the unchallenged influence of authority, through which a young adult can only ascend by the consent of one who must then descend, the liberal youth is simply given the tools to ascend on their own terms, without depending on the failure of others for their success. For the liberal, leadership is about managing abundance instead of doling out scarcity. It is about hope instead of fear.
So liberals are people from all walks of life who value themselves and, thus, others. The essence of how the liberal sees the world is in the individual and collective, giving to back and forth to each other the abundant, diverse wealth created by the power of skill and caring, of everyone working together. This is the model for their politics.
I cannot with good conscience claim that liberal politics in today’s America consistently and accurately reflect liberal values. Neither can I honestly claim that all conservatives reflect such narrow and self serving values. But when so many say the difference between liberals and conservatives is in the succinct opinion that liberals are about people and conservatives are about money, I can’t argue with that in principal.
When asked to explain the difference was between liberals and conservatives with one question, the cognitive linguist Dr. George Lakoff, to paraphrase, asked, if your baby cries in the night do you pick it up. The conservative, who is rigid, insists the baby learn to submit to the power of authority, the power of those who think they know what is best for them. They let them cry themselves to sleep. On the other hand, the liberal, who is caring, surrenders to the power of the child to express its needs, accepting that everyone, even a baby, has the power to ask for what they need. They listen to the child, and without fear of making them weak, pick them up and soothe them.
My question to describe the difference is, “if I told you someone was bankrupt, would you say it was more about morals or about money”? Maybe not the best question, but that is where I see the difference. With one definition comes the fear of being bereft of the power of money, and of being dependent on others. With the other comes the sadness of seeing someone not only hurt themselves but others.
Speaks to me.