Liberals and Conservatives

So if the meanings have changed, what is the difference between a conservative and a liberal -- and why is America so divided?

For the best answer to this question, I would turn you over to Dinesh D'Souza ( -- who is, in my opinion, the premier authority on this issue (and the greatest debater you'll ever hear). His book, Letters to a Young Conservative, answers this question in broader terms. My version is much shorter.

I remember a friend of mine, who's a Democrat, was disturbed by the idea that Republicans claim to be the "party of values." The implication, she said, was that Democrats don't have any values. I understood her point, and she's right: No party can claim to have values and suggest the other party doesn't. But the issue isn't that conservatives have values and liberals do not; it's that the values of each party differ. They each have values, but they have different set of values. A conservative's values include "civility, patriotism, national unity, an attachment to family, a belief in merit, social order, morality, and in personal responsibilty for one's actions." A liberal's values include "equality, compassion, pluralism, diversity, social justice, peace, autonomy, and tolerance." There can be some overlap, of course; but these are the values about which each party becomes the most passionate.

Despite these different value systems, conservatives and liberals have shared common ground. In the past, they each believed in a "universal moral order": an external set of values upon which most people agreed. The two parties may have bickered over priorities and public policy, but they managed to share a belief in right and wrong. Beginning in the 1960s, as I point out in my own book, 7 Myths of Working Mothers (, everything changed. The feminist movement (along with the anti-war movement) challenged the status quo. They felt people were being oppressed in having to succumb to a universal moral order, so they fought for "a new ethic that would be based not on external authority" but on The Self. The idea of being true to oneself and listening to one's inner spirit was born, and the result is what we have today.

And what we have is a line in the sand. On one side are conservatives, who still believe in a universal moral order, whether or not it's governed by religion; and on the other side are modern liberals -- who bought into the notion that what's good for The Self is all that matters. They have given up on the idea that there should be any rules or shared morality. What's good for The Self is all that matters. Indeed, what makes our country so divided today is that liberals and conservatives no longer share common ground.

Which is why, when I wrote a book about the merits of women staying home in the early years, I was chastised by liberals and embraced by conservatives. The conflict isn't between stay-at-home moms and working moms; it's between the group that still subscribes to a universal moral order and the group that pays homage to The Self. When it comes to motherhood, these two groups often overlap. The assumption is that at-home moms would all agree with me and working moms wouldn't. But there are plenty of at-home moms who are home not because they believe it's in the best interest of society, but because they've made a choice to do so -- and this choice, they say, should not be made for anyone else. That's the homage to The Self.

So if you're someone who still believes in a universal moral order, you're either a conservative or an old-time liberal. If you pay homage to The Self, if you believe in the concept of choice at the exclusion of personal responsibility or the greater good of society, you're a modern liberal. And you undoubtedly voted for Obama.

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