Originally created 03/14/03

Clearing up confusion over meanings of "liberal," " conservative"



Recent letters show that liberalism and conservatism are not well understood by some.

For example, some think that former President Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party of his day is the same conservative party we see today. Not true. Conservatives, by definition, are opposed to changing established institutions and methods.

Liberals, on the other hand, seek change because, by definition, they advocate greater freedom of thought or action.

My reference is Webster's dictionary. This basic, fundamental knowledge is necessary to intelligently discuss one's conservative or liberal views accurately. In other words, you cannot place a liberal or conservative tag on anyone in history arbitrarily unless you know and understand the Zeitgeist of that particular period.

If you fail to understand the spirit of the times you are referring to, then you might make a statement that is out of historical context and therefore wrong.

In Mr. Lincoln's day the Republican Party was, by definition, liberal because they opposed slavery. The Democrats in the South were conservative because they wanted to maintain the institution of slavery.

Since Mr. Lincoln's day, the two parties have changed positions on the political spectrum as it relates to conservatism and liberalism. Remember when the South was a solid Democratic Party machine that held firmly to the old institutions and methods? Well, those days are over, and now it is the Republican Party that takes the conservative view. The friction between conservatism and liberalism is a never-ending battle that is required for historical progress to take place in a slow and peaceful way rather than abruptly.

Having said all this, do not assume that all Democrats are liberal and all Republicans are conservative. In America, it's OK to be liberal or conservative on issues of the day. It's OK to think for yourself. It's great to be an American.

Larry Jarrett, Warrenville, S.C.