Compare and contrast liberalism, conservatism, and socialism

Liberalism conservatism and socialism are social and political doctrines. Their views on society and how it is governed have evolved over the years although they have differences their main objective of leading  society for the better remains the same, but they differ how to implement this. This essay is going to compare and contrast these ideologies in their various political and socials views, for example this essay will look at how these ideologies view the individual, the state, equality,  the economic  and private property.

Liberalism claims to give high priority to the freedom and supremacy of the individual it strongly declares that humans are good by nature as Harrison & Boyd (2003) stated; the superiority of the individual is the most important aspect of liberal ideology. Liberals regard pluralism in which people with diverse beliefs and ethics “compete” as good. This is in contrast to conservatives who are uneasy with pluralism (Harrison & Boyd, 2003). Similarly socialism shares the aspect of goodness with liberalism but they emphasise that the goodness is shaped by the environment the individual lives rather than nature (Harrison & Boyd, 2003).

On the other hand conservatism held the belief that that societies are imperfect and faulty by nature and therefore cannot be regarded as good. They argue as Heywood (2007) stated that human being are psychologically and emotionally weak therefore they need the help of each other in other words they are “dependent creatures” Heywood (2007:71) Tthis was further supported by  Baradat, ( 1979) by suggesting that liberals held the belief that human beings are naturally good and they can be responsible and behave well when left alone, While on the other hand conservatives “mistrust” the individual, therefore conservatism  tends to advocate authoritarian command  over the individual (Baradat, 1979)

Liberalism, specially classical liberalism’s view of the state is distinguishes from the other two ideologies. They advocate the concept of “minimal state” one that is limited to the protection of the individual although later liberals’s view is significantly different from that of their predecessors because they no longer subscribe to the view of “minimal state” in contrast as Heywood suggested modern liberals came to acknowledged the state’s assistance is unavoidable (Heywood, 2007,p64). Conservatism on the other hand, favour strong state whose task is to maintain law and order and unlike liberalsism and socialism it is against the “redistribution” of wealth from the rich to the poor (Gale, Gale, 2001). On the other hand  socialism’s view on state varies, if one examines the writings of Marx and Engels one concludes that socialist share slightly similar view as those of classical liberals. For example, as Vincent (1992) argued, “the writings of Marx’s socialist contains negative  analysis of the state”. Furthermore Vincent continue to argued that it is clear in the communist manifesto that socialism see the state as an “expression or instrument of class rule” (Vincent, 1992, p.105) therefore it must be brought down through uprising. If one analyses this one can understand the negative view that socialist held over the state, thus Marxist socialisms shares slightly similar view with the classical liberalism because they both emphasise the negativity of the state. While on the other hand, social democracy view the state as a means for “progressive change” (Haywood 200.p.130)

Equality in the  conservatism’s view is significantly different from that of liberalism and socialism, for conservatism it is not only common for society to be unequal but it is natural. As Andrew Vincent (1992) pointed out conservatives firmly believe that society has two parts, those “born to lead and those born to be led” (Vincent, 1992, p.69), they further argue that there is nothing wrong to with this concept, and thus cannot be changed because it is natural phenomenon (Vincent 1992). This is clearly in contrast to the liberal’s view on equality. Liberals see equality as a right rather than privilege, unlike conservatism they argue that human are born equal. Furthermore as Heywood (2007) stated this equality must not be limited to a particular section of the society it must be for all irrespective of class, creed, or race. On the hand the socialist view of equality is similar to that of liberalism in some respect, such as the belief that all human beings are equal. But unlike liberalism, socialism held the idea that the source of the social inequalities is as Harrison & Boyd (2003 ) suggested the ownership of “private property” (Harrison & Boyd 2003, p.222).  Thus socialisms say the unequal outcomes in educations, wealth, and health is because of inequalities in “starting point” (Harrison & Boyd, 2003, p.222).

Socialist’s economic view especially that of Marx and Engels is fundamentally deferent from that of both liberalism and conservatism. However, not all socialist share same economic view for example, Marx and Engels argued that industrialisations and the advent of the mass factories destroyed the livelihood of the workers and created more poverty because of the many hours the worker has to work in the factories and law wages he is paid (Adams, 2001). Thus Marx and Engels advocated collective economy where by the “means of production” is owned or controlled by the people. On the hand social democracy shares the same economic views as those of liberalism and conservatism which is an economic system that is based on private enterprise, therefore as Heywood (2007) suggested socialism accepted capitalism as a reliable method of creating wealth, thus economically, social democracy is not “different” from liberalism and conservatism as they all adhere to the capitalist economic concept.

In conclusion liberalism believes in the supremacy of the individual and the goodness of the human nature, this view is shared by socialism ideology; in contrast, conservatism regards humans as defective and flawed. Conservative’s approach of the state is what distinguishes from the other two ideologies, furthermore, conservativatism  do not share the equality aspect of the humans with the other two ideologies, finally on the economic point of view, liberals, conservatism and social democracy adhere to the capitalism’s economic concept because they both held fast to capitalist ideology, Marxist though strongly reject this concept as they see capitalist as exploitative and divisive. Although they have differences their main objective of leading the society for the better remains the same.










Critical Bibliography

Adams, I., 2001. Political ideology today. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Adams examines in detail the view and belief of major ideologies, this addition specially looks at the newer ideologies such as the religious fundamentalism, the feminism and sexual politics and the green politics. Although useful, this source is not easy to extract information compared to other similar books.


Baradat, L.P., 1979. The spectrum of Political Attitudes. In Political Ideologies their origin and Impact. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc. p.13.

This book covers most important political ideologies of our time; it’s mainly intended to those with some kind of prior knowledge of politics, the book further covers international politics, it explains the development of political ideas way back to their origins. Its weakness is that, it’s not easy to extract information easily especially for those new to politics like myself.

Gale, Gale, 2001. credoreference. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 12 November 2009].

A very knowledgeable article about the views and beliefs conservatism, this author summarises all aspect of conservatism in one short article, the author seems to be neither critical nor supportive for conservatism.

Harrison, K. & Boyd, T., 2003. Understanding political ideas and movements. Manchester: Manchester University press.

Well written book, easy to understand and reader friendly form. This book focuses on western political thought and its backgrounds; the Authors urge readers to get involve politics as it will most likely affect them.

Heywood, A., 2007. Political Ideologies, an introduction. 4th ed. Basingstoke and New York: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN.

A simple introduction to the world’s major ideologies, very simple, and easy to understand, Heywood’s book is the best place to start for those who to understand the basic definition of political ideologies, this edition is up to date and contained new information such as multiculturalism, his weakness is his lack of knowledge about Muslim politics which led him to compare political Islam fascist with the could have presented this important information in a different way.


Vincent, A., 1992. Modern Political Ideologies. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell.

This book is so easy to use, each political ideology has its own chapter, and it is designed or intended for all levels of students. The text highlights and demonstrates, compares and contrasts ideas that exist both within and between political ideologies



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