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Clear Differences

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In tumultuous sociopolitical struggles, a frequent pattern is visible: Conservatives often fight to preserve their own wealth or privileges, but liberals battle for causes that don't enrich or benefit themselves personally.

This fact is clear in the long crusade to abolish slavery, and in never-ending attempts to aid the poor. Liberals are less driven by self-interest, more driven to help the entire society. Conservatives are impelled more by a desire to help themselves.

Famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

Consider other obvious differences between conservatives and liberals:

First, economics: Inherited wealth is a factor in right-wing politics. While most people hope to accumulate affluence and leave it for their children, this goal is especially strong among conservatives. They lobby to eliminate the estate tax on big holdings.

Conservatives feel less empathy for left-out families, those not born into privilege, those less-endowed with abilities for success. Conservatives constantly seek to pay less in taxes that fund the government safety net for unlucky folks. A frequent right-wing accusation is that progressives want to "redistribute wealth".

Second, morality: Conservatives generally adhere to supernatural religion and its sexual taboos. They usually support censorship to ban sex from movies, television, books, magazines, and the like. Vestiges of narrow-minded colonial Puritanism linger.

An Australian, whose nation originated as a penal colony, reportedly told an American: "We're the lucky ones. We got the criminals, and you got the Puritans."

Actress Elizabeth Taylor was quoted: "The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues."

Conservative morality includes a belief that highly religious employers should be allowed to deny birth control to their female employees -- and that such corporate owners will lose their "religious freedom" if health-insurance plans of their firms cover contraception.

Conservative morality includes a belief that every human egg acquires a soul the moment it is fertilized, therefore it is murder to destroy a microscopic zygote. As a result, many conservatives oppose medical research that extracts stem cells from frozen fertilized eggs.

Third, militarism: Conservatives tend to be "hawks" suspicious of unfamiliar people, and quicker to use armed force to kill presumed enemies. In contrast, television commentator Chris Matthews voiced a liberal view when he said:

"I think that the horror of war is so vital to realize, to take into our own minds and hearts, that we don't send men and women into battle until the leaders fully and fairly decide that is the only solution."

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight (more...)

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