PEOPLE OFTEN ASK, what is the fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative? When all the vehemence is boiled down, how are their worldviews different? It is a good question, and the answer might surprise you.
It is not their belief, or lack of belief, in God. Many conservatives are atheists, and many liberals are theists. Nancy Pelosi is a professing Roman Catholic, but atheist George Will, noted columnist, is a well-respected conservative.
The difference between a political conservative and a political liberal is not their belief in God. It is their conviction about human nature, what theologians call anthropology. Are people basically good, or basically selfish, acquisitive, and narcissistic? That is the question. In his book, A Conflict in Vision, economist Thomas Sowell, not a Christian, argues this point persuasively. So does Jonah Goldberg.
“The story of civilization is, quite literally, the story of taming, directing, channeling, or holding at bay human nature. It is human nature to take what you want, particularly from a stranger—if you can get away with it. It is human nature to kill—again, particularly strangers—if you don’t like them or feel threatened by them. It is human nature to grant favors to family and friends.”
Goldberg, Jonah. Suicide of the West: (p. 48).
Your belief on human nature will govern your approach to child rearing. If you think children are inherently selfish and self-centered, you will discipline them. If not, you will be against corporeal punishment. Your parenting style will be permissive. Your children will grow up with their narcissism in full flower.
The proof that children are born with a selfish nature is overwhelming. Children don’t need to be taught to be evil. They are naturally evil. They need to be taught virtue. Children taht are not taught virtue, wont’ be virtuous.
Your belief about human nature will also determine your approach to personal responsibility. Are people fundamentally responsible for the choices they make in life? If the heart is fundamentally self-centered, then I am responsible for the bad choices I make. But, if I am fundamentally good my problems and successes cannot be the result of my heart disposition. the problem must be my environment, something outside of me, i.e. parenting, education, social status, neighborhood, etc.. This approach is called “Environmentalism.” I am not responsible. My environment is.
If my environment is the problem then government intervention to fix my environment is the solution. Billions will be spent on anti-poverty programs, education, etc.
But, if you believe that people are basically self-centered and selfish, then no amount of environmental restructuring will help. A change of heart is the only solution, and hearts only change through strong families, religion, and parenting. This is why conservatives generally push for strong families and limited government.
Police and Military
Your belief about human nature will also shape your convictions about the role of military and law enforcement. If people are basically good, we need to limit law enforcement. “Defund the police” will be our approach. If people are basically good we don’t need to fear China, Russia, or Iran. Their leaders are sincere and benevolent. We can trust them to keep their agreements. Therefore, we don’t need a strong military.
But on the other hand, if people are fundamentally covetous, dishonest, and selfish, we need a strong military. Our foes cannot be trusted. We know from history that the best way to preserve peace is to convince our potential foes that an attack on the U.S. will be counterproductive. That is why “Peace through Strength” is the conservative motto.
Your belief about human nature will determine your economic theory. Capitalism is an economic system for sinners. It harnesses the human lust for material gain and makes it serve the common good. Because people are basically lazy and dishonest, capitalists realize that capitalism cannot benefit those who will not work. Even Jesus said, the poor you will always have with you.
On the other hand, socialism is the economic system for people with warped views of human nature. Believing that people are basically good, liberals believe they can give money to those who don’t work, and they will not abuse the system. Since they believe that people are basically good, liberals believe government can penalize the productive with onerous taxes and they will continue to produce anyway.
Because of their belief in the goodness of human nature, liberals tend to be Utopian. They believe they can create the perfect society. Socialism is utopian, and Communism is its worst expression. The last century is proof that utopianism is a terrible error. Building on a utopian view of human nature, Stalin slaughtered somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million Russians. “You need to break a few eggs to make an omelet” was his famous rationalization.
Similarly, Mao Zedong, attempting to create a Marxist utopia in China, butchered somewhere between 60 and 80 million Chinese.
Isn’t it amazing that these men could be so patently evil themselves, and still believe that they and other people are basically good? “The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can understand it?” Our capacity for self-deception is amazing.
The Bible is realistic. It does not flatter us. This is why most conservatives are Believers.
“And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”Genesis 6:5
“None are righteous. No, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one”Romans 3:10-12
Here is my conclusion. The less confidence we have in human nature the more virtuous we will become. The ultimate change of heart that brings true virtue is conversion to Christ. For our good and the good of our children, let us humble ourselves, and confess our sins so that we can grow in moral goodness. The effect on the future of our political system will be immensely beneficial.
I enjoyed this blog post very much. When I drill down deeper into your subject, I also notice a startling amount of naïveté among the secularists whether conservative or liberal; however, I see the naïveté as especially endemic on the Left.
It’s a dangerous naïveté since it believes that human are basically good with the tendency toward evil. This view either downplays or rejects the fallen condition of human beings. Consequently, there’s no viable category for evil in the world and in the human heart. This of course leads to horrendous policies like criminal reform vs imprisonment; or the abolishment of the death penalty, legalization of marijuana and so forth.
Instead of seeing human beings as capable of evil, the cultural marxists only see systems or things as evil. This is not to suggest that certain types of government or public school curriculum. or laws, etc. can’t be immoral. But governments and schools mean nothing apart from the people that inhabit them.
As you can see, your post was very thought-provoking for me. Keep writing until your fingers fall off.
Matthew: Thanks for the encouragement. Sorry its taken so long to get back to you. Glad you found the article helpful.