I think I know what ‘conservative’ means, but I’m not at all sure what ‘liberal’ means anymore.
I tend to consider “conservative” and “liberal” in the general sense, more than just in the political sense, maybe not even including the political sense.
A liberal, I was raised to perceive, is one who is interested in all aspects of the world, chooses a limited number, by necessity, to focus his or her reasonably disciplined efforts on (there are other things to do, like earning a living, raising and protecting a family, etc.), and reaches working conclusions which are always subject to reconsideration pending new information and experience. Open-minded, consciously learning, seeking principles to live by which are constructive and not harmful to the common good, etc.
“Intellectuals” are not liberal, by and large. They have a body of (limited) knowledge which they seek to protect and to impose on others. They “know” what’s right, and you don’t.
“Conservative” is not necessarily in opposition to any of these ideas, or ways. Conservatives I see more as ‘libertarian.’ Leave things alone, don’t try to change so much, preserve what works and what is beautiful and good. There are, of course, ‘conservative’, as well as ‘liberal’ intellectuals, who know better than you and I. The “besserwissers.”
I can’t say I’m beyond labels because I use them all the time in general conversation. But I find myself more and more avoiding labeling in the political realm because there seems to be no general understanding or agreement on what any given label means, even among those who adopt the same label. Historical definitions are to me, just that–historical.
Irrespective of labels, I see in the political realm those who are dependent, actually and psychologically, on the “government.” These people want more of it. Opposing these are those who see the government as the problem, as Ronald Reagan stated.
Crossing through these and other groupings are those who advocate a robust military posture, and those who prefer a more defensive posture (I am in this latter camp). There are those who are all heart and want “the government” to take care of all the suffering in the world, or at least throw money at it so they can feel good; and those who want to keep all our tax money at home, and not given in “foreign aid” and to the United Nations. Others want “the government” to advance the nation in space travel, want “the government” to take care of all the homeless, destitute, and troubled people (but not in their backyard); others want just to be left alone to advance their personal interests in their own way without myriad rules and regulations from “the government” to impede and frustrate them. Others want no tax money to go to activities they see as immoral… and on and on.
I don’t see labels such as ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ as useful in this stew of ‘principles’ (where any may truly exist) based in personal desires and antipathies.
“Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality.”—Joseph Conrad
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”—Rudyard Kipling
If words are not true, concepts are not right.
If concepts are not right, morality and the arts do not thrive.
If morality and the arts do not thrive, justice miscarries.
If justice miscarries, the nation does not know where to put its feet and hands.
Therefore, disorder in words must not be tolerated.