Are liberals and conservatives opposite? If you are a conservative, does that mean that liberal ideas are opposite of yours? And if you are liberal, are conservative ideas opposite of your way of thinking?

The opposite of liberalism is not conservatism - but tyranny (a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator - not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.). Liberals like to be able to change things and not be told what to do unless they have a say in it.

And the opposite of conservatism is not liberalism - but anarchy (absence of any form of political authority, political disorder and confusion, and absence of any cohesive principle, such as a common standard or purpose). Conservatives like set rules to live by and structured, unchanging principles, as long as they have a say in the structure and principles.

So neither anarchy nor tyranny sits well with true liberals or conservatives, but perhaps only resonates with far out fringes which will never, in my opinion, garnish more than a fraction of the support needed to sustain legitimate movements anyway. They're so contrary, they can't even agree among themselves, which precludes any kind of serious organizing, other than emotional rallies which are no more than tailgate parties between football seasons!

Actually, true liberals and conservatives have much in common. Both are fiercely independent and don't want anyone telling them what to do unless they agree to it. Therefore, when one or the other party is out of power, there are bad feelings of being told what to do by the party in power. This is a common and understandable reaction.

Of course, historically no one party has survived too long and it's just a matter of time before the other party gets it's say. Historically as well, the differences are not intractable, usually revolving around arguments between individual freedoms and distribution of wealth (liberal) and balanced budgets and free capitalism (conservative), all of which is rarely legislated to the point of long term detriment to either side, depending upon general popular support and the vote.

Originally, our founding fathers rejected any kind of authoritative power, such as the Church of England, and instead opted for a quite liberal interpretation of democracy. However within these liberal ideas of a government solely made up of elected officials, lie many conservative safeguards that insist that no branch of government could really get the upper hand.

So when we look at contemporary liberalism and conservatism carefully, we can see that even in the most seemingly intractable arguments is a common ground. For example; let's look at gay marriage and a proposed constitutional law prohibiting it.

This would place a segment of our population at risk to guaranteed freedoms of our constitution (liberal view). From the conservative standpoint, gays have no fundamental rights to marriage, as defined by the church, and therefore the constitution does not apply to them. That being the case, a constitutional law banning gay marriage would be justified and prohibit gay marriage from becoming a possibility through the unpredictable legislatures, courts and justice systems of the various states. A federal law would trump the states.

As you can see, this conservative argument against states rights and for federal control is based on a fear of anarchy, or things changing beyond their control at the state level. Therefore, conservatives embrace a kind of federal tyranny, which interestingly enough is pure liberalism.

Mainstream liberalism and conservatism therefore have distinct similarities. Even the fringes of the right and left have similar authoritarian views. Most transparent on the right at this point in time are fundamentalist Christians who envision a Government run on Christian and Biblical ideals, as well as white supremacists who would like to see all the Jim Crow laws repealed and the government fall under their complete control.

The fringe left would like to see socialism develop with public ownership of all property and businesses, and an equalization of wealth across the board. Capitalism would be tightly regulated, as in China, and all would share equally in the national wealth.

Although these extremes go nowhere, it is the mere threat of these extremes that incite moderate liberals and conservatives to distrust each other to the point of paralysis in legislation. They are not actually concerned with the legislation at hand, but with how the legislation will politically erode the power of the other side in the future.

If you look at both the left and right wingnuts, you will see a distinct liberalism, in that changes in government (or destruction of ) are the primary interest. Therefore tightly held conservative values merge into liberal actions. Restricted governmental powers, distrust of the judicial system as an unpredictable wild card, self sufficiency and self determination are all liberal roots emanating from our founding fathers.

The basic tenet, on both sides, has always been and probably will always be that the limited interests of the few should never constrict the freedom of the masses, although the rights of the minority is also to be protected. A bit of a dichotomy! Liberally speaking, selfish companies and multinational corporations should not have power over congress, therefore affecting the masses by profit for the few. And conservatively, one president should not wield so much power as to have influence over the many who disagree. Both ideals come from the same basic principles of personal freedom.

Both conservatives and liberals love freedom; freedom to do as they please. Our constitution is filled with freedoms and our society is set up this way as well. But with our freedoms comes the possibility of excess, and with excess comes the possibility of a media driven society where a very few powerful voices force realities to take a back seat to ideologies. This is unique to our country, and the results of which remain to be seen.

But we all love freedom, as previously stated; liberals like freedom to worship any and all religions, as well as freedom from religion being jammed down their throats in the public forum, freedom to make a living as they see fit, and freedom to run their own lives but with the safety net of a benevolent government to help if they run into some bad luck.

Conservatives love the freedom to proselytize their religion, not only in churches but in schoolrooms and places of employment, freedom to work without having to pay off the government in the form of taxes and fees, and freedom to run their own lives without the government telling them what to do.

Both conservative and liberals have the same intuitive urges regarding freedoms. Unfortunately, living in a society where the personal freedoms of one person can become anothers nightmare and prison requires compromise. Also, there is the recognition that some things require team effort, and can't be adequately handled independently, such as a national armed forces and a national interstate highway system, plus thousands of others.

At the intersection of these personal freedoms is politics as usual. However the root of our politics here in America is still freedom. And the constitution, recognizing both the liberal and conservative drive toward fairness of the masses in deference to the profit of a few, protects minority rights, probably because the founding fathers had a disdain for organized religion aka the Church of England and the debilitating restrictions placed on the populace as well as the attempted theocratical control of the new colonists here in America.

Although liberals now consider themselves anti-conservative, and vise versa, the fact remains that rooted in all of this controversy lies a fundamental fact: Americans are independent as hell.

Within this fierce independence is a comradeship of sorts that cuts through all the heated rhetoric of the left and right, which when found again will bring us together. Unfortunately, only a good war has ever been able to do that, and if you look at the lingering costs of a war, both psychologically and monetarily, that's a too simplistic and expensive solution.

Hopefully, peace be found amongst us without the trauma of fighting the next war, although that kind of thing (not counting political wars like Vietnam and Iraq) always seems to arise when we have way too much time on our hands.

So the question is; can we find enough similarities within ourselves to begin cultivating true brotherhood? I know that brotherhood doesn't make the nightly news and excite cable channel ratings, and that is why it probably will never work as a movement of some kind, however, if things continue as they are, the next war will more than likely be fought right here amongst ourselves in the good ol' U. S. of A. And that would be a tragedy brought on by nothing but a lack of intelligence.

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock (anagarika addie) is a meditation teacher at: and author of “A Year to Enlightenment:

His 30 years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk.

He lived at Wat Pah Nanachat under Ajahn Chah, at Wat Pah Baan Taad under Ajahn Maha Boowa, and at Wat Pah Daan Wi Weg under Ajahn Tui. He had been a postulant at Shasta Abbey, a Zen Buddhist monastery in northern California under Roshi Kennett; and a Theravada Buddhist anagarika at both Amaravati Monastery in the UK and Bodhinyanarama Monastery in New Zealand, both under Ajahn Sumedho. The author has meditated with the Korean Master Sueng Sahn Sunim; with Bhante Gunaratana at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia; and with the Tibetan Master Trungpa Rinpoche in Boulder, Colorado. He has also practiced at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the Zen Center in San Francisco.