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Defining the Left and Right in the United States

Zyphlin

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"Left" and "Right" get thrown around continually during political discussions and debates. Ask any Republican or any Democrat what people make up the "far" end of the two spectrum and you'll likely get some varying answers. However, we always hear about "moderates" as well, but what are they exactly in relation to the left and right.

How would you define liberals and conservatives in modern America, be it in ideology or policy, in such a way that there's a discernible "middle" between the two?

This is mostly focused on your own thoughts on it. If you have questions for others regarding their statements feel free to ask. If you disagree with someone elses assertion you can politely state your reasons and thoughts on it, but remember The Loft is less about proving another side is wrong and more about discussing your view and trying to understand theirs.
 

Psychoclown

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This is a topic I've actually been pondering on my own. I think most differences in politics do not come from different values. Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, moderates, and independents mostly value the same things: freedom, liberty, stability, morality, fairness, ect. The difference comes in how we prioritize these different and sometimes competing values.

Libertarians for instance put individual freedom and liberty above all else. Consequently, if you want to have a chance of convincing a libertarian, you need to show how your position advances universal freedom and liberty. Conservatives I believe generally prioritize order and stability the most.

Liberals, I've had a harder time identifying their top priroity. I think many liberals would like to say fairness, but opponents of liberalism would definately dispute that. Many liberal positions are seen as inherently unfair by the opposition. Where as I don't think liberals would object or disagree with the idea that libertarians value individual freedom above all else or that conservatives emphasize stability and order. Another possibility I see for liberals is morality. When discussing the proper role of government, many liberals have told me certain positions are immoral and should not be tolerated (not helpign the poor or allowing racial discrimination in the private sector would be two prominent examples in my mind). But liberals reject the idea of imposing morality when it comes to issues like abortion, despite the fact that many pro-life liberals still state a personal moral objection to abortion. So liberals, can you help me understand you guys better? What value would say liberalism tries to promote? And if possible, try to make a case for somethign that wouldn't be disputed by other ideologies.

Also, I want to clarify that when I say libertarians promote freedom and conservtives promote order, I don't mean that they exclusively promote those things. Libertarians view government as a necessary evil because fothe stability and order it provides to society. Conservatives view their ideology as perfectly fair and moral. My point is that certain ideologies tend to focus one certain values, not that they can't embrace a multitude of values.
 

reefedjib

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This is a topic I've actually been pondering on my own. I think most differences in politics do not come from different values. Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, moderates, and independents mostly value the same things: freedom, liberty, stability, morality, fairness, ect. The difference comes in how we prioritize these different and sometimes competing values.

Libertarians for instance put individual freedom and liberty above all else. Consequently, if you want to have a chance of convincing a libertarian, you need to show how your position advances universal freedom and liberty. Conservatives I believe generally prioritize order and stability the most.

Liberals, I've had a harder time identifying their top priroity. I think many liberals would like to say fairness, but opponents of liberalism would definately dispute that. Many liberal positions are seen as inherently unfair by the opposition. Where as I don't think liberals would object or disagree with the idea that libertarians value individual freedom above all else or that conservatives emphasize stability and order. Another possibility I see for liberals is morality. When discussing the proper role of government, many liberals have told me certain positions are immoral and should not be tolerated (not helpign the poor or allowing racial discrimination in the private sector would be two prominent examples in my mind). But liberals reject the idea of imposing morality when it comes to issues like abortion, despite the fact that many pro-life liberals still state a personal moral objection to abortion. So liberals, can you help me understand you guys better? What value would say liberalism tries to promote? And if possible, try to make a case for somethign that wouldn't be disputed by other ideologies.

Also, I want to clarify that when I say libertarians promote freedom and conservtives promote order, I don't mean that they exclusively promote those things. Libertarians view government as a necessary evil because fothe stability and order it provides to society. Conservatives view their ideology as perfectly fair and moral. My point is that certain ideologies tend to focus one certain values, not that they can't embrace a multitude of values.

I need to completely disagree with you on this, Psychoclown. The problem of competing political ideologies is that the various values are defined differently. Fairness does not mean the same thing to a conservative versus a liberal versus a libertarian. The concept of social justice is foreign to a conservative. Freedom to a liberal means being unbound from your sociopolitical context to have the same equality of outcome, whereas it means having equality of opportunity to a conservative. Since moderates and independents aren't rooted to an ideology, they get to pick and choose, but it also means they may not have firm definitions for these values. All these values you mention: freedom, liberty, stability, morality, fairness are all defined differently between the ideologies.

The reason why may be explained by a book I have mentioned previously, on the ground floor. It is A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. I have only read the first two chapters, which is why I am having difficulty giving you concrete examples of differences. I highly recommend the book so far.

In this book, Thomas Sowell defines political vision as the cognitive framework within which political opinion is formed. He divides the broad swath of vision into a dichotomy.

There is the "Unconstrained" vision, where the state of man is seen as infinitely improvable, given the right conditions, and that these conditions are established through the rational application of laws by government. Knowledge to the unconstrained view is only acquired through reason.

On the other hand, there is the "Constrained" vision, where the state of man is viewed as limited and self-interested. The only way to prevent poor behaviors is to constrain him. While an individual may improve personal habits, broadly speaking mankind does not improve itself. Still self-centered. The challenge is to produce beneficial societal effects from a population of self-interested individuals. In economics, the solution is a market economy. Knowledge to the constrained view is acquired through social institutions, in addition to reason.

In the case of knowledge, The unconstrained view would compare rational capability to determine who is better suited to make decisions - it is elitist. It does not take into account institutional knowledge. To the constrained view, someone with broader ties to institutions is viewed as more capable - it is traditionalist.

From what I gather, these differences persist into other areas such as morality, freedom, justice, fairness, etc.
 

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I agree there is a difference of definition on some of these values. I mentioned fairness in my first post as an example. I think many liberals would say liberalism promotes fairness, but conservatives and libertarians would vehemently disagree with statement when it comes to numerous policy positions. But is there any value that liberalism strives to promote that we could all identify with the left? Or is liberalism focused solely on the more subjective values like morality, fairness, and justice?
 

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The reason why may be explained by a book I have mentioned previously, on the ground floor. It is A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. I have only read the first two chapters, which is why I am having difficulty giving you concrete examples of differences. I highly recommend the book so far.

In this book, Thomas Sowell defines political vision as the cognitive framework within which political opinion is formed. He divides the broad swath of vision into a dichotomy.

There is the "Unconstrained" vision, where the state of man is seen as infinitely improvable, given the right conditions, and that these conditions are established through the rational application of laws by government. Knowledge to the unconstrained view is only acquired through reason.

On the other hand, there is the "Constrained" vision, where the state of man is viewed as limited and self-interested. The only way to prevent poor behaviors is to constrain him. While an individual may improve personal habits, broadly speaking mankind does not improve itself. Still self-centered. The challenge is to produce beneficial societal effects from a population of self-interested individuals. In economics, the solution is a market economy. Knowledge to the constrained view is acquired through social institutions, in addition to reason.

In the case of knowledge, The unconstrained view would compare rational capability to determine who is better suited to make decisions - it is elitist. It does not take into account institutional knowledge. To the constrained view, someone with broader ties to institutions is viewed as more capable - it is traditionalist.

From what I gather, these differences persist into other areas such as morality, freedom, justice, fairness, etc.

Could you expand on the role social institutions play in the constrained view? I tend to agree with the constrained view of mankind, but I think I break with them when it comes to their trust in social institutions.
 

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Psycho, could it be said that you're initial descriptions of them...such as "fairness" or "stability"...isn't suggesting that the other parties don't believe or think they offer this in their own way, but more along the lines of what their supporters actively present as the parties focus or goal when not prompted.

IE...Republicans or Libertarians may make an argument that their view of government is more "fair" because everyone is allowed to succeed or fail on their own merits without it being influenced by an outside source. However, this comment normally only comes up AFTER someone suggest that their way is not fair or suggests the Democratic party IS fair.

Meanwhile, Democrats may argue that the notion of "individual freedom" is something they stand for too if they're confronted by individuals propping up Libertarians with the claim or attacking Democrats for stiffling individual freedom. But its not a trait that is, without prompt, one that Democrats typically push as a core ideal when selling their party.

I can see Reef's point about various parties viewing themselves in simliar ways for different reasons, but I kind of like Psycho's direction. Its not stating that another party doesn't think that they fulfill those roles as well, but more that its not the initial ideals or values that are primarily and initially pushed or implied by that party.
 

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Psycho, could it be said that you're initial descriptions of them...such as "fairness" or "stability"...isn't suggesting that the other parties don't believe or think they offer this in their own way, but more along the lines of what their supporters actively present as the parties focus or goal when not prompted.

IE...Republicans or Libertarians may make an argument that their view of government is more "fair" because everyone is allowed to succeed or fail on their own merits without it being influenced by an outside source. However, this comment normally only comes up AFTER someone suggest that their way is not fair or suggests the Democratic party IS fair.

Meanwhile, Democrats may argue that the notion of "individual freedom" is something they stand for too if they're confronted by individuals propping up Libertarians with the claim or attacking Democrats for stiffling individual freedom. But its not a trait that is, without prompt, one that Democrats typically push as a core ideal when selling their party.

I can see Reef's point about various parties viewing themselves in simliar ways for different reasons, but I kind of like Psycho's direction. Its not stating that another party doesn't think that they fulfill those roles as well, but more that its not the initial ideals or values that are primarily and initially pushed or implied by that party.

Definately. You don't generally hear conservatives talking about fairness unless they are either defending themselves from acusations that they are not fair or attacking Democrats for not being fair. Rarely do we hear liberals arguing that their positions promote freedom, unless they are accused of being anti-freedom. You almost never hear libertarians mention order or stability, unless we're labeled as anarchists.
 

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Could you expand on the role social institutions play in the constrained view? I tend to agree with the constrained view of mankind, but I think I break with them when it comes to their trust in social institutions.

The way I think of it is that these institutions are repositories of knowledge that are taught to members. Examples would include the free market, church, marriage, boy scouts, civic organizations, veterans grous, etc.

Another aspect to the Constrained view is that no one person can retain all knowledge. Therefore you get cooperative behaviors where multiple people with different sets of knowledge and experience com etogether to solve problems. It represents systemic knowledge versus the knowledge of a single individual.
 

reefedjib

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I agree there is a difference of definition on some of these values. I mentioned fairness in my first post as an example. I think many liberals would say liberalism promotes fairness, but conservatives and libertarians would vehemently disagree with statement when it comes to numerous policy positions. But is there any value that liberalism strives to promote that we could all identify with the left? Or is liberalism focused solely on the more subjective values like morality, fairness, and justice?

You are right, you did point out that different groups hold different definitions of fairness. My apologies for misconstruing your statement.
 

tacomancer

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This is a topic I've actually been pondering on my own. I think most differences in politics do not come from different values. Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, moderates, and independents mostly value the same things: freedom, liberty, stability, morality, fairness, ect. The difference comes in how we prioritize these different and sometimes competing values.

Libertarians for instance put individual freedom and liberty above all else. Consequently, if you want to have a chance of convincing a libertarian, you need to show how your position advances universal freedom and liberty. Conservatives I believe generally prioritize order and stability the most.

Liberals, I've had a harder time identifying their top priroity. I think many liberals would like to say fairness, but opponents of liberalism would definately dispute that. Many liberal positions are seen as inherently unfair by the opposition. Where as I don't think liberals would object or disagree with the idea that libertarians value individual freedom above all else or that conservatives emphasize stability and order. Another possibility I see for liberals is morality. When discussing the proper role of government, many liberals have told me certain positions are immoral and should not be tolerated (not helpign the poor or allowing racial discrimination in the private sector would be two prominent examples in my mind). But liberals reject the idea of imposing morality when it comes to issues like abortion, despite the fact that many pro-life liberals still state a personal moral objection to abortion. So liberals, can you help me understand you guys better? What value would say liberalism tries to promote? And if possible, try to make a case for somethign that wouldn't be disputed by other ideologies.

Also, I want to clarify that when I say libertarians promote freedom and conservtives promote order, I don't mean that they exclusively promote those things. Libertarians view government as a necessary evil because fothe stability and order it provides to society. Conservatives view their ideology as perfectly fair and moral. My point is that certain ideologies tend to focus one certain values, not that they can't embrace a multitude of values.

Something that may surprise you is that as a liberal, one of my primary goals is that I would like to see a stable, fair, and ordered society and from my conservations here, I think conservatives do too. However, I think the liberal approach is different from the conservative approach. The difference between me and what I see as a typical conservative is in what solution we think will work and what we see as a problem. However, I think the motivation is largely the same.
 

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I have heard a few liberals argue that liberalism promotes stability. Ususally the argument goes (not saying this is your argument, but what I've heard in the past) that by placating the poor with entitlement programs, they don't rise up in a bloody revolt against the rich. I'm not sure I buy that, at least in terms of the U.S. Poor in the U.S. doesn't mean the same thing as poor in many places on the earth. For the most part, even the poor have their basic needs met - food and shelter. You could argue that is thanks to the social safety net, but I think it could be scaled back noticeably and folks would still have those two basic needs met. Either way, once your basic needs are met and you feel you have at least an opportunity to improve your situation, I think the desire for a bloody peasant revolution fades away. And such an argument is rare in my experience. The typical liberal I've talked to, both here and in person, usually seems to emphasize their sense of right and wrong or fairness as the primary principle behind their thinking. Could it be possible you're not typical liberal in that sense?
 

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I have heard a few liberals argue that liberalism promotes stability. But then I don't know if I have ever met a typical liber Ususally the argument goes (not saying this is your argument, but what I've heard in the past) that by placating the poor with entitlement programs, they don't rise up in a bloody revolt against the rich. I'm not sure I buy that, at least in terms of the U.S. Poor in the U.S. doesn't mean the same thing as poor in many places on the earth.

Poverty has both a psychological and physical componant. Physically, you can look at poverty in absolute terms. Either one has food, shelter, clothes, sanitation, health care, etc or one does not.

Psychologically, I see poverty as relative to one's general population. If everybody is poor, one does not feel poor, but if 95% of the rest of your local population is better off, you feel poor, especially if one cannot find a way to control and improve their situation, as sometimes happens.

Too many issues with either piece of it can destabilize society.

For the most part, even the poor have their basic needs met - food and shelter. You could argue that is thanks to the social safety net, but I think it could be scaled back noticeably and folks would still have those two basic needs met. Either way, once your basic needs are met and you feel you have at least an opportunity to improve your situation, I think the desire for a bloody peasant revolution fades away.

This I believe is absolutely true. One must feel that they have some control over their lives or else they are going to find a way to take control, possibly violently (heaven forbid). I see the tea party as an example of people taking control (not violently) when they felt like things were getting away from them. Another example from earlier years was the formation of unions.

However, getting some food and a place to sleep wouldn't necessarily make someone feel like they have control over their life. So the safety net only does so much. This is one of the reasons I think safety nets should be focused on teaching people new skills (even things like basic hygiene if necessary). If we make it so people can get back on their feet, than society and the individual benefits.

And such an argument is rare in my experience. The typical liberal I've talked to, both here and in person, usually seems to emphasize their sense of right and wrong or fairness as the primary principle behind their thinking. Could it be possible you're not typical liberal in that sense?

Maybe I am not. Actually, I tend to live a conservative lifestyle.
 
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Psychoclown

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Poverty has both a psychological and physical componant. Physically, you can look at poverty in absolute terms. Either one has food, shelter, clothes, sanitation, health care, etc or one does not.

Psychologically, I see poverty as relative to one's general population. If everybody is poor, one does not feel poor, but if 95% of the rest of your local population is better off, you feel poor, especially if one cannot find a way to control and improve their situation, as sometimes happens.

Too many issues with either piece of it can destabilize society.

Yes, there is a certain degree of relativity. If you're dirty poor, but everyone in your society is dirt poor, you feel normal. And if you're poor, but constantly confronted with the fact that your society is rather prosperous, you're more likely to realize all the luxuries you don't have. But I still believe once folks aren't worried about starving or dying from exposure to the elements that they are far less likely to rise up in violent revolt. If you add accessable class mobility, a chance to make your voice heard through elections, and even the most basic safety net, revolt based on economic issues becomes a non-issue. To apply that to today, we could significantly scale back our safety net and still not have to worry about a violent uprising of the poor. Adding more and more to entitlements and government largess does not add to stability. We're well past the point of diminishing returns.

This I believe is absolutely true. One must feel that they have some control over their lives or else they are going to find a way to take control, possibly violently (heaven forbid). I see the tea party as an example of people taking control (not violently) when they felt like things were getting away from them. Another example from earlier years was the formation of unions.

However, getting some food and a place to sleep wouldn't necessarily make someone feel like they have control over their life. So the safety net only does so much. This is one of the reasons I think safety nets should be focused on teaching people new skills (even things like basic hygiene if necessary). If we make it so people can get back on their feet, than society and the individual benefits.

I agree with the bolded statement 110%! I think that would be a far more effective and cost efficient way to help the poor improve their situation. Furthermore, it would let us easily wash our hands of people who flat out refuse to work towards bettering themselves.

Maybe I am not. Actually, I tend to live a conservative lifestyle.

I'm not a typical libertarian either. My pragmatic streak has lead to me being called a statist by more extreme libertarians and I also live a fairly conservative and traditional lifestyle.
 
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