Liberalism updated

LiberalModernBy Jim Sullivan

In an op-ed I wrote in September titled “How Liberals Perceive Economic Justice” I defined modern liberalism as a current manifestation of the philosophy, policies, and ideas espoused by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the New Deal. This article is an attempt to briefly summarize typical contemporary liberal positions and contrast them with conservative ones.

Equality and economic justice are foundational goals for modern liberals.  Additionally, modern liberals support the idea of a government large enough to make the goals of equality and economic justice, including the elimination of dire poverty and other socioeconomic problems, a reality.

In contrast, modern conservatives reject the idea of large government, government-supported equality and the elimination of socioeconomic problems by government.  Modern conservatives maintain that free individuals should be able to eliminate socioeconomic problems on their own, assisted by a free and competitive marketplace.  Personal freedom, small  government, and a free and minimally regulated marketplace are the philosophical lynchpins of modern conservatism.


Gun Control : Modern liberals hold that the Second Amendment to the Constitution allows states to have and maintain militias.  It does not allow individuals to have firearms.  In addition, the purchase and ownership of firearms is to be closely regulated by the government.  Modern conservatives insist that the Second Amendment gives the right of gun ownership to private individuals, and the purchase and ownership of those weapons are to be minimally regulated.

Immigration:  Modern liberals support amnesty for illegal aliens already in this country.  Moreover, modern liberals maintain, such illegal aliens are entitled to certain rights and benefits that normally accrue to American citizens.  By contrast, modern conservatives reject amnesty for illegal aliens, holding that immigration policy should focus on legal immigration and enforcement of existing immigration laws.

Social Security:  The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 to ensure that seniors and elders in our society do not become impoverished due to the significant reduction in income they receive as compared to what they earned in their younger years, as well as to higher medical expenses due to increased age.  Modern liberals strongly support Social Security and believe it should continue  to be administered by the Federal government to help ensure its safety and liquidity.  Modern conservatives believe Social Security should be privatized, and therefore that individual retirements should in effect be guaranteed by the investment marketplace and individual due diligence.

Abortion:  Modern liberals maintain that abortion should be available to any woman who desires one.  This position is a manifestation of the view that a fetus is not a human life and that a woman has control over her own body.  The right to abortion, liberals maintain, must be protected by government, as it is today by the Roe vs Wade court case.  Modern conservatives maintain that a fetus is a human life and that, indeed, life begins at conception.  Accordingly, any manifestation of an unborn baby from conception onward has the right to life and thus abortion is immoral and should be illegal.

Global Warming:   That global warming has been proven by scientists and is a clear danger to the planet Earth is a view held by modern liberals.  Additionally, modern liberals hold that global warming is caused by human burning of fossil fuels.  Accordingly, carbon emissions must be regulated to ensure the safety of our planet and its inhabitants.  Modern conservatives hold that scientists have shown that global warming is not a threat that requires regulation of carbon emissions and that it is a function of normal changes in global temperature, witness the Ice Age and subsequent changes in Earth temperature.

Health Care:  Modern liberals think all have a right to affordable health care.  The passage of the Affordable Health Care Act in 2010 was a clear liberal victory.  The reasoning behind this Act is that literally millions of Americans do not have access to, or are denied, affordable health insurance and thus affordable health care.  Many are forced to rely on Emergency Room physicians for their primary medical care.  Modern conservatives say that all have access to health care through a free, competitive marketplace, and that the government should not be subsidizing health care for individuals.  Many conservatives  reject  government subsidization of health care as socialized medicine, even though Medicare is, in effect, socialized medicine, yet has worked well by most accounts.

IN CONCLUSION:  The foregoing is intended as a brief overview of modern liberalism in terms of philosophy and six current high profile social, economic, and political issues.  People will recognize that not all liberals or all conservatives are necessarily consistent in how they define modern liberalism in terms of philosophy or issues–some will differ with the view of liberalism and conservatism presented here.  The hope is that there is enough common ground in this essay to constitute a reasonable and realistic presentation of modern liberalism and, by association, modern conservatism.


Jim Sullivan is a retired businessman with graduate degrees in political science and business.  He lives in Ventura with his wife Juliette and two family cats.

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