Conservatism, liberalism and socialism can be called ideologies, as they constitute “comprehensive set of beliefs and attitudes about social and economic institutions and processes” (Lawson, 44). These three ideologies, which have been developed throughout history, share both similarities and differences.
Conservatism, unlike liberalism, generally opposes radical changes in social and economic domain. As the word connoted, the accumulated knowledge of the past and its application to political and economic functions is better to be conserved. Almost all representatives of the theory of conservatism placed great emphasis on the wisdom of generations, which naturally led to the formation of traditional values and customs. Any social experiment by government was perceived as a threat for the tradition of the nation which was the main factor contributing to the preservation of social stability and, consequently, of national development. Change was to be accepted only if it occurred at a gradual and consistent pace. The view of human nature according to conservatism is not egalitarian, in the sense that some people, placed in society, are more capable than others to contribute to its development and they are the ones to be placed in positions of authority. Individuals must guide their behavior according to traditional moral standards, set by functional institutions, such as Church. For example, “the increasing political power of the Catholic Church, as well as of other religious groups in the U.S., suggests an area where institutional bases for traditional conservatism may be evolving” (handout, 11). Conservatism evokes strong feelings of patriotism, since support for the established institutions are greatly promoted and each person serves his/her country with consistency and loyalty. This patriotism leads to an increased trust to in the military forces in cases of external threat, rather than in diplomacy.
The liberal, now, view of human nature is highly egalitarian and can be strongly contrasted with that of the conservative, since it suggests an elevated perspective of human beings and diminishes the importance of the social unit. Human rights and liberties constitute a political necessity. Political systems must contribute to individual happiness and their role must be restricted. In a liberal society, the individual is a rational being and, according to classical economists, rationality is expressed in a materialistic way. That is the rational allocation of energy in an effort to maximize profit. This is the economic man in a liberal society. The political man is the one who makes critical choices when participating in democratic procedures. Liberalism has many times been identified with democracy and the ideal government should be pluralistic and not paternalistic. The essential principle of liberalism is individual freedom, which must be expanded and served in all levels of life, political and economic.
Another ideology that marked the historical stream of thought is socialism. Socialism is a highly egalitarian ideology, which, unlike liberalism, stresses on individual’s natural sociability that entails great decrease of cooperation among human beings and not aggressive competition. Unfortunately, socialists claim that human exploitation by other humans has its roots to established structures of control and this is also the reason for the existence of poverty. Thus, socialism, in contrast with conservatism, is critical to the existing structures and institutions and promotes change. The preferred mean of effective change is revolution. In a socialist regime, the role of the government is to ensure fair distribution of wealth and to render the means of production communal, by means of enlarging the public domain. If the land and the factories are owned by the state, and the workers control the state, everybody will share the same opportunities and economic quality, socialism’s most important value will be achieved. Poverty will be extinct in this way and the claim of many socialists, that their ideology emerged out of conserve for solving poverty problems, will be verified.
Although, the differences to be found among these three ideologies are numerous, there are some similarities between liberalism and conservatism, which via the approach of the ideology of laissez-fair conservatism, or else classical liberalism, combined their forces to face the danger of socialism-communism.