Michael J. Totten has an interesting and provokative piece on the differences between liberals and conservatives. What he finds is that liberals, while being outwardly more worldly, tend to be less interested in foreign affairs, while conservatives tend to be less on the point with domestic and social issues. As he states:
Radical leftists think the Bush Administration is like the Nazi Party for one specific reason. They haven’t studied the rise of the Nazis. They truly believe the comparison is apt not because they misunderstand Republicans, but because they misunderstand Hitler.
Far-right conservatives have the opposite problem. They understand Lenin perfectly well. It’s the Democrats they don’t understand. A hyper awareness of threats leads to hallucinations of banshees in the bushes. Joseph McCarthy had a deep understanding of Communism. And he did find some Communist spies. But he saw the tentacles of Communism everywhere, whether there were adequate grounds for it or not.
I think Totten is on to something with this analysis. After reading my share of The Nation and Mother Jones there does seem to be a lack of interest in foreign cultures other than how the US is somehow oppressing them. Nor does liberalism always understand the lessons of history. Philosophically, modern liberalism is based off of a utopian idea: that government intervention can trump the natural forces of markets and institute some greater social order. In other words, the basic philosophy of modern liberalism is essentially forward-looking.
In contrast, conservatism is by nature rooted in tradition. Conservatism does allow for change, but slow and measured change rather than radical alterations to society. Conservatives tend to reject utopian visions and concentrate on pragmatic solutions. (Yes, I’m generalizing here.) Conservatives are also strong believers in the defense of society from outside pressure or rapid change.
Totten’s analysis does leave out something that Patrick Ruffini notes in his response. Modern liberalism does seem to be based on economic determinism – that economic conditions are the primary determinant of nearly every aspect of life. As Ruffini notes, conservatives reject this as being too narrow a view.
Totten also correctly points out that right now each side could learn something from each other. (Although I watch my share of foreign films already, thank you very much.) Liberals need to stop making specious analogies to Hitler and realize that the rest of the world does not have the same thought processes of the typical coastal American liberal. Most Iraqis don’t see George W. Bush as being worse than Hitler. Conservatives need to take a less adversarial view of the world and embrace the kind of liberal nation-building that we once eschewed.