The real difference between a conservative and a liberal is not so much how traditional a person is. A correlation exists, yes, but many liberals are happy to maintain certain traditions in their own life and suggest broader populations enjoy those same or other traditions. Many liberals support traditions but call them culture, and they are especially suggestive of supporting these cultures when they belong to minorities or disadvantaged people.
Many conservatives are not religious, and many who are still find themselves saying they see nothing wrong with this or that group being afforded the “rights” they believe they deserve to have.
So the difference must be made along some other characteristic. Best I can tell at the moment, that characteristic is a optimistic belief about human nature. Liberals affirm such a belief. Now many will tell you they admit and know of a lot of evil and wrongdoings. They know that human beings are capable of grave harm, they know people shoot up masses of people, rob, lend for profit (yes, usury is still a sin), start wars, and so on. But that is not the same thing as believing human nature has a certain inclination towards evil. For this reason, I’d say even many conservatives are liberal. Christianity has become a means by which such optimism has been passed on and embraced. Christ has redeemed us, by His blood we are saved, God has already forgiven us and so on and so forth. Christianity, for these, means that one has no reason to suspect human beings are capable of such grave evil that they may do it as easily as waking up in the morning. Again, admission is not the benchmark. Plenty Christians admit to much evil, but at root, they believe human beings are inclined to behavior for the better.
And of course many people who are not Christian are optimistic about human nature. Some because they’ve been privileged enough to see so many examples of positive behavior, others because they have no faith in anything and consequently cling to the idea that people are capable of good and mostly want to do good. Still others accept such an idea because it’s popular and they’ve never really experienced enough to contradict it.
The motives are still more, but the point is that these people are liberal and find a value in being optimistic about human behavior, the interaction of corporations and the public, the policies of our governments and their application by large bureaucracies, the ongoing involvement of our military in the conflicts of other countries, deregulating the market as well as human behavior in general. I don’t wish to inform any litmus test for all that a liberal thinks, but these are major points of contention between them and conservatives.
A conservative, however, regards human behavior with significant prudence and caution. It is not so much that they are even pessimistic about human behavior. It is not a matter of being pessimistic or optimistic — it is about being either when there is cause, that moderate quality being perfectly worded by the virtue of hope which is an admission of good constantly thwarted by and at odds with evil. Those with hope know the latter tragically often wins out. As a result, they don’t become blind to it and suddenly disregard evil in hopes of encouraging more good simply by being optimistic all the time, nor are they foolish enough to think that anything good comes from succumbing to despair. These people are rarely those who come off as cheery and easily excited. They’re more often balanced and even tempered. They are weighing the good against the bad in any given situation.
Because they must always weigh things, they hold on to their traditions. They believe that something once good may never happen again, so it is best to maintain a form to once again produce the substance. This is one reason the Sunday obligation is more or less common sense and why daily mass is encouraged. Secularly, this is why people suggest to addicts and the lethargic routinizing their days.
Now, the distinction between conservatives and liberals that I have pointed out cannot be compared to any current understanding of how we are politically divided. I would argue that many people who I’d say are conservative identify as liberal. Nonetheless, liberals often support the things they do because they believe there can come no harm from them. Divorce, the right to marry, abortion, greater progress in the sciences and technology, workers rights, etc. are all agreeable to the liberal because these things bring overall good and only a negligible amount of bad. This is the precise way of looking at gentrification that I’ve heard from anyone not bewildered and distraught by it. Neighborhoods improve, they argue. I’ve also heard it from people about legalizing drugs. All of these things the liberal mind views as an expansion on human liberty that works for the better.
Hopefully I’ve made it clear how I would differentiate a liberal from a conservative. At the end of the day, a conservative may support many of the same things as liberals, but the reasoning is different. For this reason, we cannot, again, understand these frameworks based on how the terms are applied demographically in our current society.
Now the distinction may seem arbitrary to some, but given the name of this blog, I think a little more credit is due to conservatives. Over the last few years, perhaps since I saw Sicario, I’ve really been struggling — more like King David as he wrote psalms, not as an actor with drugs and fame — with the fact that I simply do find the more darker and tragic art more fulfilling. I won’t walk any present audience through that journey, but I can say that at the current moment I feel evermore with the day that tragic art and recognizing as well as embracing the tragedy in life is what people need to do. Maybe at all times, but, if not, especially now. The tragic provokes change while the joyful embraces the current reality. This acceptance of life’s inherent harrowing, heartbreaking, and hapless tendencies comes with a temperament and outlook that I’ve come to associate with conservatives. The whole nation has leaned left and lost this temperament and outlook. We think so highly of science, politicians, the wealthy, technology, capitalism (meaning economic actors acting without intervention), plenty of other systems too, and every other ideal we pursue. It is daunting to see the amount of faith people put in everything from an iphone to a BLM march. It doesn’t seem to make any difference what we’re cheering for, because we’re obsessed with the cheering. Causes vary, but in the end we’ve lost that prudent, patient approach. For the fact, we are thanked by conditions that worsen in all the expected ways and a few we didn’t foresee.
One of Joseph Sobran’s pieces raised the project of asking the Liberal, firstly, what kind of society would they be a conservative in — in what kind of society would a liberal believe we’ve settled in to a good place that we oughtn’t mess with too quickly. I don’t think anyone can say “Ah yes, our current society, of course,” but anyone who gives an answer to the question would inevitably hinge that ideal society’s perfection on it’s flexibility and ability to change, progress, and update. Broadly speaking, this means we can never say we want a society in which the average person really does have their say because the average person cannot effect the sweeping changes that the progress-minded want to see. More personally, it means we will always struggle with one another and our world like actors and singers trying to get used to a fleeting brush of success.