The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are bandied about by many who fail to understand the crucial difference between them. Many believe the difference lies in the liberal’s willingness to support government spending. But that explanation falls short. Conservatives are always willing to spend more on defense. Liberals would rather spend money on social programs.
Others believe the liberal is the one who supports “change” while the conservative supports the “status quo.” That explanation also falls short. Ronald Reagan was a conservative. When he came to Washington in 1981 he shook the establishment and brought about change the liberals could not believe in.
If there is one thing that separates the conservative from the liberal it is his view of human nature. The conservative sees man as born in a broken state. This tragic view of human nature sees man as selfish and hedonistic by design. Given his nature, it is no wonder a man chooses crime. It is a wonder he ever chooses conformity.
This tragic view of human nature also explains why conservatives often speak of religion and family values. Given his selfish nature, man must internalize some reason to behave in pro-social ways. That fact that he falls short of these values does not mean he is a hypocrite. The one who does not even believe what he says is the hypocrite. The one who believes what he says and falls short is merely human.
The conservative knows in advance that he (and others) will fall short of what religion expects of him. But his solution is not to give up on religion. His solution is to implement a back-up plan. In the context of crime, that back-up plan takes the form of a criminal justice system focused on punishment.
According to the conservative, effective punishment is that which produces fear of transgression. Fear of transgression occurs when the punishment is swift, certain, and severe. In sum, the conservative believes we should first try to love people into conformity. If that does not work, we should scare people into conformity. But the liberal sees things differently. Everyone is born “good” with a blank slate. To the extent that people become “bad” it is because “society” corrupted them. Nowhere does the liberal explain how combining many good people makes a bad society.