The Conservative favors the status quo, be that out of self-interest or out of an aversion to change. S/he wants to stand still; the system is fine. Any problems that the system might have—if s/he acknowledges them—are far outweighed by the benefits. The Conservative also holds a rather a-historicist view although s/he would argue that s/he is in, fact, honoring history. S/he says, “The institutions that exist now have always existed and should always exist. World without end. Amen.”
The Liberal, however, takes a more historical position in that the Liberal looks at the past and sees that it has been changing and looks to the future and hopes to see change—in the direction of the better, that is. The Liberal thinks that there is a measure of good in the institutions as they exist now, but as they are not rigid—but, in fact, malleable—they can be and should be changed for the better. If the Conservative sees the system as beautiful (even if he thinks a bit of make-up would make it better), the Liberal sees the system and thinks, “With a better diet, more exercise, and more attention to mental and physical health, the system could be so much more beautiful.”
When the Conservative sees the Liberal, s/he sees nothing but a Radical in
disguise (a wolf in sheep’s clothing, so to speak). When the Liberal says
“evolution,” the Conservative hears “revolution” and resists any form of
collaborative work. The Liberal, says the Conservative, is at heart a Radical
and is just trying to sugarcoat Radical ideas with deceptively harmless
When the Radical sees the Liberal, s/he sees nothing but a Conservative in disguise (a wolf in sheep’s clothing, again, so to speak). When the Liberal says “evolution,” the Radical hears a plea for the status quo. To the Radical, the Liberal is weak-willed, unprincipled, opportunistic, or slow. To the Radical, any change that the Liberal suggests is only a way to prolong the system.
When the Liberal looks to the Radical, s/he says, “We’re working on it. See, we’ve moved really far already, right? We’re working on it. It’ll happen. Be patient.”
Now, the only way that constructive change occurs is when the Radical tempers his/her skepticism toward the Liberal and the Liberal becomes willing to collaborate with the Radical. Effectively, when the Radical spurs the Liberal into action, we get a “quickening” of the evolution that the Liberal professes to want. In other words, we start moving.
Now, these three categories are not rigid dichotomies and often overlap.
• The fusion or union between the Radical and the Liberal produces the “social democrat”
• The fusion or union between the Liberal and the Conservative produces the “Christian democrat”
• The fusion or union between the Conservative and the Radical produces the “proto-fascist”
Now, the problem in American politics is the tendency to lump the categories of “radical” and “liberal” into one, to ignore differences between them, and to demonize or delegitimize the liberal argument by calling it radical. An excellent example of this is the issue of same-sex marriage.
The Conservative says that marriage has always been one man and one woman—it always has been and it always will be—God (or God working through natural law) wills it so. The Conservative claims the forces of history and tradition yet ignores the past existence of polygamy (especially in Biblical times); his history is of his own making. The Conservative sees marriage as it exists and calls it a wonderful institution—it is flawless (or, maybe, it was flawless before those damn Liberals got at it). The Conservative sees same-sex marriage as a threat to the institution although, for whatever reason, rarely now broaches the issue of divorce. If he does, he attributes the divorce rate to “bad character” even if, ironically, he himself is on his third wife.
The Radical looks at marriage and sees a bourgeois convention—an archaic, medieval, misogynistic arrangement that serves no valuable purpose anymore except to reactionary forces. The Radical believes that marriage, as an institution, should no longer exist. “Man and woman were not made for monogamy,” the Radical says. If the Radical supports the legalization of same-sex marriage, it is because s/he is willing to lean toward the Liberal, for, ideally, to the Radical, the institution would not exist at all—gaining inclusiveness through dissolution.