Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Party of Change

The Republicans are calling themselves "the party of change" this election cycle so I thought it might be interesting to look up the definitions of liberal and conservative. Here is how they are defined in

liberal (lĭb'ər-əl, lĭb'rəl)

Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
Liberal Of, designating, or characteristic of a political party founded on or associated with principles of social and political liberalism, especially in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.

Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.
Not strict or literal; loose or approximate: a liberal translation.
Of, relating to, or based on the traditional arts and sciences of a college or university curriculum: a liberal education.

Archaic. Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
Obsolete. Morally unrestrained; licentious.
A person with liberal ideas or opinions.
Liberal A member of a Liberal political party.
[Middle English, generous, from Old French, from Latin līberālis, from līber, free.]

liberally lib'er·al·ly adv.
liberalness lib'er·al·ness n.
SYNONYMS liberal, bounteous, bountiful, freehanded, generous, handsome, munificent, openhanded. These adjectives mean willing or marked by a willingness to give unstintingly: a liberal backer of the arts; a bounteous feast; bountiful compliments; a freehanded host; a generous donation; a handsome offer; a munificent gift; fond and openhanded grandparents. See also synonyms at broad-minded.
ANTONYM stingy

conservative (kən-sûr'və-tĭv)

Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.
Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit.
Moderate; cautious: a conservative estimate.

Of or relating to the political philosophy of conservatism.
Belonging to a conservative party, group, or movement.
Conservative Of or belonging to the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom or the Progressive Conservative Party in Canada.
Conservative Of or adhering to Conservative Judaism.
Tending to conserve; preservative: the conservative use of natural resources.
One favoring traditional views and values.
A supporter of political conservatism.
Conservative A member or supporter of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom or the Progressive Conservative Party in Canada.
Archaic. A preservative agent or principle.
conservatively con·ser'va·tive·ly adv.
conservativeness con·ser'va·tive·ness n.

Any questions?


hubris hurts said...

Thank you! I'm often amazed by how few people actually know the definitions of those words

NeverTheTwain said...

The definitions are illuminating, but as is too often the case, when a definition get applied (or misapplied) in the real world, it can obfuscate more than it clarifies.

For example: on the face of it, yeah, in terms of attitudes toward change, "conservative" automatically means the opposite of "liberal." But in the context of politics and society, "change" is not a value-free term, which spins associated ides like "conservative" and "liberal" off into a subjective netherworld.

For example, if one believes that the country has been "moving in the wrong direction" (and based on political ads, who doesn't?), then "conservative change" is not necessarily an oxymoron--it means something like "moving things back to the way they were"--as opposed to "liberal change," which would presumably mean moving in a new direction.

One can argue that moving backward is impossible in any case, or that things were never really "the way things were," and I wouldn't disagree--but that doesn't mean "conservative change" is an intrinsically meaningless phrase.

Or maybe I'm just sick and tired of the whole "liberal vs. conservative" false dichotomy. In the real world, the words are used too much for--well, political--purposes. Self-styled conservatives (few of whom would agree on a what "conservative" means in a political context) use the word "liberal" as a pejorative, as if it actually explains anything; self-style liberals, on the other hand--and again, good luck finding a shared definition of what it means to be a political liberal--use the term "conservative" as an all-purpose insult for whoever disagrees sufficiently with them. None of which aids intelligent discussion, far less a dispassionate analysis of possible solutions to real-world problems.

Unless, of course, one considers "I know you are, but what am I?" to be a valid argument.