What are Liberals and Conservatives

Political terms - "Those who want to be liberal cannot sit back nowadays"

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What do terms like liberal or conservative mean today? A political scientist in conversation.

Liberal, conservative, neoliberal or radical: these terms are used generously when it comes to political movements, parties or media houses. In many cases, however, it is not clear what the attributions mean today.

Political scientist Thomas Biebricher distinguishes the terms from one another.

Thomas Biebricher

Political scientist

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As a political scientist, Thomas Biebricher researches conservatism and neoliberalism at the University of Frankfurt.

Among other things, he is the author of “'Geistig-moralische Wende'. The exhaustion of German conservatism ”(Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2018) and the introductory work“ Neoliberalismus. Introduction »(Junius, Hamburg 2015).

What does «conservative» mean?

Thomas Biebricher: The conservative embodies the attitude of preservation. It is about stability and great reservations about utopias. Those who are conservative assume that people are not necessarily peaceful and benevolent at the time.

There are two other characteristics: nostalgia and pragmatism. You want to maintain a status quo, even if you have always fought the changes towards it. For conservatives, what is worth preserving usually arises from the moment.

As an alternative to “conservative” one often hears “liberal”. What does that mean in the definition?

This term is notorious for its ambiguity and is used by various groupings for itself.

Anyone who wants to be liberal cannot sit back now.

I would say that the consensus in today's liberalism is the freedom and autonomy of the individual. So the idea that politics should give everyone their own way of life.

What is the original meaning of "liberal"?

The original "Liberal Project" came into being at the end of the 18th century, although it wasn't called that at the time. It was about overcoming a state that wants to be responsible for everything.

So it was about individual self-determination. To put it simply, it is about freedom of religion, freedom of lifestyle or choice of profession.

So about values ​​that are taken for granted today?

I think these are controversial again today. We are confronted with political movements that expressly oppose liberal ideas such as the diversity of life plans. If we want to be liberal, we cannot sit back and relax.

Have we got to the conservatives then?

With regard to the AfD, for example, I would make a clear distinction between a conservative and an AfD member: Conservatives want to preserve, but are also willing to reconcile with change.

The term “neoliberal” is mostly used to criticize destructive capitalism.

With the AfD, on the other hand, I don't see that they want to maintain a status quo. You want a new order. There is something radical about that, something that conservatives, as I understand them, would not share.

One often reads the term “neoliberal”. What does that mean?

The term is mostly used to criticize a destructive capitalism. That is also the reason why the term has a negative connotation. Nobody today would voluntarily describe themselves as “neoliberal”.

Many terms are fuzzy or ambiguous. Have they worn out?

I do not think so. The terms still allow orientation. They help analyze new movements.

Susanne Schmugge asked the questions.

scms / kusv

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  • Comment from Paul Soltermann (ps)
    I see the real contrast in neoliberal and social.
    A neoliberal acts free from any scruples, his fellow human beings, the environment, even his friends he sees at most as a resource for his personal endeavors. Well and the social tries to make themselves useful in the community and not go under. Just the opposite.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
  • Comment from Harald Buchmann (Harald_Buchmann)
    In addition to liberal and conservative, there is also the socialist, Marxist way of thinking, according to which freedom is limited by objective circumstances such as economic dependence and lack of freedom in thinking. So more freedom does not come from telling people without money and education: take on personal responsibility, but to change the objective living conditions of society to more material equality and better education for everyone.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
  • Comment from Urs Imboden (Uimboden)
    @SRF: I do not understand that in this case too you are choosing a German expert to explain the terms to us. Thomas Biebricher explains it understandably in the German context (AfD). I pay high fees, which is why I expect high-quality journalism from SRF and that means that such terms are interpreted in a Swiss context. My suggestion: Ask a political scientist from a high-quality Swiss educational institution!
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment

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