There are a large number of ways to categorize political ideologies and viewpoints, and different methods tell us different things about ourselves, and about society at large. Let me throw one more into the mix: you can gauge a great deal about someone by looking at the way they view the relationship between the individual, and society at large, or to phrase that another way, by looking at the way they view the relationship between the governor, and the governed.
Conservatives tend to look at the individual as the center of the universe. We view society as a vehicle used to protect the individual rights of all of the people within society, and we view anything else government does with great suspicion.
Liberals tend to view society as the center of the universe, and want to correct any problems within it, by giving government whatever power it needs to affect positive change over the whole of society.
We see these two viewpoints virtually everywhere.
Conservatives see the United States as the least racist and most tolerant nation on Earth, whereas liberals view the United States as a flawed society that has never atoned for the sins of its past. One would think that it would be impossible for both groups to be correct, but one who looks at the individual as the center will tend to focus on the people alive today, and on what they have done, whereas one who views society as the center will include everything that a given society has ever done, or stood for.
To a conservative, nobody alive today has ever been, or owned, a slave, and a large majority of people alive today are too young to have lived under Jim Crow. Since conservatives only hold people accountable for their own actions, the idea that people today (other than those who were active parts of Jim Crow, and who are still alive) are still responsible for the sins of America’s past, is absurd.
To a liberal, it was society that was guilty of slavery and Jim Crow, and that guilt carries forward, just as society itself carries forward. Until society atones for it’s sins, liberals will view our society as bearing evil, and of being unjust.
Conservatives are happy to see that racism is dead, as a political force, and since we view the responsibility for racism as being on the individual, we blow off the limited racism we still see in our larger society, as the ‘fringe of a fringe’. When a white supremacist rally only has three people in it, we view it as insignificant.
Liberals put the evils of the individual on society as a group, and as such, every white supremacist rally is proof that our society has not changed, in spite of the fact that when people protest white supremacist rallies, there are so few white supremacists, and so many protestors, that many of the protestors complain about not being able to find the white supremacists they showed up to protest.
We all want to see fewer mass shootings, but conservatives look for solutions pointed at individuals. With the recent El Paso shooting, for example, we might look at the role of identity politics in contributing to the shooter’s desire to kill.
Liberals, here too, blame society, asking questions like, ‘why are we the only country where such mass shootings occur,’ and liberals ask that in spite of the fact that the ‘research’ used to suggest that we are in any way exceptional, in terms of mass shootings, is fraudulent. The United States is actually well below average in terms of per-capita mass shootings.
Viewpoints on speech follow the same two perspectives. Conservatives will hear someone say something vile, and we figure that as vile as the things someone might say are, whomever says those things has the freedom of speech, and whatever someone might say reflects upon that person, and not anyone else. Liberals hear the same vile speech, and figure that society as a whole is guilty, for containing such a viewpoint. This is why liberals have such a hard time separating ‘free speech rallies’ from ‘white supremacist rallies.’ To the liberal mind, allowing white supremacists to speak is an act of support for white supremacy, whereas to the conservative, allowing white supremacists to speak is an unfortunate cost we pay to live in a free society.
Viewpoints on welfare follow similar patterns. Conservatives view each person as being independently responsible for their own outcomes. Liberals view society as being collectively responsible for the outcomes of everyone within society, making each of us responsible for the welfare of everyone else.
Culture is viewed in similar patterns. Conservatives view culture as something that evolves in a ground-swell, up from the people, whereas liberals tend to view culture as something government can control. You might note that with the LGBTQ++ community, for example, the drive on the left is not just to have the behaviors that go with being LGBTQ++ made legal, but to have the government force the population to accept those behaviors. In other words, liberals want a government that can tell the public what to say, what to do, what to think, what to feel, and what to believe, making culture something government can define, and enforce.
Conservatives want each individual to be free to say, to do, to think, to feel, and to believe, as they wish. Conservatives want some restraint, particularly with regard to what people do, such that people cannot infringe upon the rights of other people, but as a general rule, conservatives want the government to let society’s culture take care of itself.
Within all of these topics, the fundamental question is that of the relationship between the individual, and society at large. Our country was built on the conservative view, and if our country is to endure as a beacon of freedom, then we will have to make liberals content with the right to do as they wish, within their own lives, while denying liberals the right to control the rest of us.
In the coming election, remember that we are fighting for something much more important than what the leadership of our country should look like. This election will a fight over what the very soul of our country should be.