Liberal VS Conservative VS Libertarian VS Authoritarian Table / Chart

Many people get confused on what's what when it comes to political ideology. Many people think that conservatives dislike big government and that liberals love big government, but in reality, they both like big government in different ways.

by Quinton Figueroa on April 14th, 2013

Government can be split in to two main dichotomies: economic and social. Of these two dichotomies you have two levels: complete government control or no government control. The following chart will better illustrate my point:

Or to put it more simply:

Ideology Economic Freedom Social Freedom

Liberals and conservatives are only opposites on social and economic things. They both favor government control, they just want that control in different areas. Liberals want freedom when it comes to anything having to do with social and personal items. Conservatives want freedom when it comes to anything having to do with economic and business items.

Let's take a look at some popular political issues:

In favor of Liberals Conservatives
Gay Marriage
Government Health Care
Social Security
Less Business Regulation
Less Labor Laws
Less Bailouts
Lower Taxes
Note: Keep in mind these are the general trends. There are still logical inconsistencies with some issues, moreso on the liberal side. For example liberals support personal freedom but are less likely to support the freedom for people to own personal firearms.

There is another important distinction to be made here. Conservatives want less government involvement in economic issues and want government involvement in social issues. Liberals, however, want government involvement in economic issues and social issues.

In other words:

Ideology Government In Economic Issues Government In Social Issues

And then to bring in people who favor no government and people who favor pure government you can bring libertarians and authoritarians into the mix:

Ideology Government In Economic Issues Government In Social Issues

Again, this is oversimplified to show the general trend. Not all libertarians believe in no government. Not all conservatives believe in no government on economic issues. And not all liberals believe in complete government control on both social and economic issues. But these are the trends and in most cases bear true.

Example Issues

To gain a better understanding let's look at a few examples of issues between three ideologies.

Ideology Gay Marriage
Conservative Oppose gay marriage and want the state to prevent it.
Liberal In favor of gay marriage and want the state to allow it.
Libertarian Don't care one way or the other and want no state involvement in the issue.

So right away we can see an interesting distinction. Conservatives and liberals both want the government to do something about an issue. They both want the government to control it on one side or the other. Libertarians, on the other hand, want the government out of the issue. They don't want the government to pick sides for people. They want people to pick sides individually on their own, without the government mandating for them.

Let's look at another one.

Ideology Lower Taxes
Conservative Generally favor lower taxes on most social things but are okay with taxes on military spending.
Liberal Generally want more taxes or at the very least taxes spent on less military spending and more on social spending.
Libertarian Generally believe taxation is theft and a misallocation of resources. Would rather have no taxes and pay for services taxes pay for directly.

Taxes is an interesting issue with these ideologies. Both liberals and conservatives are in favor of taxes, but for different things. Liberals want taxes on social things and conservatives want taxes on military things. Libertarians, on the other hand, want no taxes for the most part. They believe that forcing a group of people to pay for something that another group of people want is immoral and a violation of the non-aggression principle. Rather than raising a bunch of money through taxes to pay for, say, the government post office, libertarians would rather get rid of the government post office completely and allow private businesses such as UPS and FedEx to carry out post office needs. People can pay directly when they need to use a post office service rather than paying through taxes even if they're not using it.

Let's look at one more:

Ideology Government Health Care
Conservative Do not want the government involved with health care directly. Are okay with indirect government involvement through insurance companies and drug companies which dictate prices and quality, but are not okay with a completely government run health care system. Conservatives prefer a semi-government run health care system.
Liberal Want a government run health care system and want most services to be free which are payed for through taxation.
Libertarian Want no government involvement with health care at all. In favor of multiple competing health care industries working to provide the best level of service with the lowest cost. Not in favor of government involvement in insurance or drug companies either.


So this should give you a better understanding of how liberals, conservatives, libertarians and authoritarians work. It is all based around government control and where that government control is focused.

At one end of the spectrum you have people who want full government control, authoritarians (Communism, Fascism, etc) and then at the other end you have people who essentially want no government control, libertarians. In between these two polarities you have the various colors of political parties such as democrats, republicans, independents, green party, constitution party and so forth. All off these parties represent different colors of liberal and conservative leanings. All of these parties favor some form of government involvement in various aspects of life commensurate to the level of freedom they are comfortable exercising individually.

More freedom means less government and less freedom means more government. Consequently, as people grow in maturity, discernment and philosophy they become more comfortable with less government and more freedom. These are the libertarians of the bunch. They are okay with less government because they understand what less government represents: freedom, the end goal.

On the other hand you have people who are less mature and who are less discerning of philosophic issues who are much less comfortable with freedom and prefer some type of control over their lives. This is where government enters the picture. The less comfortable people are taking care of themselves the more comfortable they are letting somebody else do it for them. And the government is always there to satisfy that need. So we have government step in for the less mature which is where we start to descend into the realms of conservative, liberal and then ultimately the lowest of low, authoritarian.

 Filed under: Politics / Government, Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, Authoritarian

About The Author

Quinton Figueroa

Quinton Figueroa

Los Angeles, CA

I am an entrepreneur at heart. Throughout my whole life I have enjoyed building real businesses by solving real problems. Business is life itself. My goal with businesses is to help move the human ...



Carter: Thanks for sharing

This is an interesting way to look at it and I've never quite seen it this way. Normally when I think of conservative I think of somebody who is in favor of limited government but I guess this isn't always so.

jake: chart

I find the 3 axes on a 2d plane to be quite confusing. "social and economic freedom" together are simply the components of "government control" (the inverse thereof). So the government control axis is redundant.

I think it could simply be done by having just 2 axes, x and y axes, of social and economic freedom. Let's say econ freedom is x axis and social freedom is y axis.

The bottom right would be right/conservative. The top left would be left/liberal. Top right would be authoritarian/fascist/dictatorship. The bottom left would be anarchy, with minarchism/libertarianism slightly to the top right of anarchy.

Flayo: What if I have my own opinion

What if I have my own opinion not based on whatever I am conservatine or liberal?

Nick: maturity vs immaturity

That's just an over simplification and frankly not correct. One can be mature and appreciate the value of government and how it facilitates freedom. A lack of government would lead to anarchy, only the most immature would prefer that sort of existence.

Quinton Figueroa: How does theft (government)
@Nick (view comment)

How does theft (government) facilitate freedom?

Nick: Conversely, how does anarchy (libertarian) facilitate freedom?

Ultimately, there's no perfect answer, we need laws, taxes and government. The difficult part is striking the right balance. Western democracies (if I can call them that) are incubators for this grand democratic experiment. The gamete runs wide from countries that prefer more laws, taxes, and government to countries that prefer less laws, taxes and government and in between we have various shades of gray. I don't believe there a static right answer; it largely depends on the pressures of the times. But, as long as we maintain a strong sense of democracy, things will tend to move towards the middle somewhere. It doesn't always happen that way of course, but at least it happens often enough to maintain civility (civilization).

Quinton Figueroa: Anarchy facilitates freedom
@Nick (view comment)

Anarchy facilitates freedom because it allows everyone the ability to exercise their own individual choices without forcing the choices of others on them.

Why do we need taxes and government? We can have laws without either of these.

Barbara Portee: Upper left part of the quadrant

I do not understand why the upper left part of the quadrant is labeled Social Freedom and not Economic Enslavement. Please explain.

Quinton Figueroa: Because anywhere on the top
@Barbara Portee (view comment)

Because anywhere on the top of the chart there is no government control and therefore no way to force anything on the individual. Economic enslavement can only happen through the use of force and government is the only entity capable of enacting force on an individual without any recourse.

Ben: Yeah, no

Liberalism is not the opposite of conservatism. The opposite of conservatism is PROGRESSIVISM. Liberalism is the opposite of authoritarianism. You are confusing the term "libertarian," which was coined to separate small government liberals from social liberals, with liberal. Libertarianism is a type of liberalism. Understand?

Ben: As to why I bring up the fact that PROGRESSIVISM is the opposite

of conservatism...

You see, you INCORRECTLY claim that liberals are opposed to a free market. This is false. SOME of them are, and some of them are not. Capitalism is NOT the opposite of liberalism. In fact it is a VERY LIBERAL IDEA. There is a branch of liberals, the social liberals, who believe that maximum freedom is obtained by the government protecting the rights of the many from the corporations/wealthy/etc. These are your tax and spend liberals. But they are NOT the totality of liberals.

Libertarianism is a SUBSET of liberalism. PROGRESSIVISM is the opposite of conservatism. Got it?

Quinton Figueroa: You're just arguing over

You're just arguing over semantics which of course I agree with you on. However, when people use the world Liberal today 99% of them are not talking about Classical Liberals like the Founding Fathers... they are talking about your word "Progressivism". The word doesn't matter, use whichever word you want to label the idea I am projecting. Somebody else may say the word Progressivism isn't the right word. Who cares about the freaking word? The word Liberal has been hijacked and it is now essentially synonymous with what you're saying. For you I'll replace Liberal with Progressive since you are the 1% that knows and cares about the difference. But for the other 99% of people when I say Liberal they don't take it to mean what you do. For you to even bring this up is kind of silly.

Moreover, if I were to walk up to 100 people who call themselves Liberals today and ask them if they opposed the free market and thought that it needed government oversight over 95% of them would say yes. So no, Liberals are not Classical Liberals. Liberals are 99% synonymous with Progressives. You're arguing a book, I'm arguing reality.

A french man: A precision...


I'm a french man and from my perspective, I can tell you that the problem seems largely USA-centered. In Europe, especially in France, the word "liberal" has nothing to do with what you mean by "liberal" in USA but is closed to the original definition of classical liberalism. It seems that UK has a more lefty usage of the word "liberal" but not so lefty than in USA. In France, in fact, we have nearly the inverse problem: people tend to think that liberalism is a right wing ideology and to associate it with conservatism...

Quinton Figueroa: Yeah, of course it is largely
@A french man (view comment)

Yeah, of course it is largely USA-centered, that is where the propaganda is. That is why the word has been hijacked. This is why the word Anarchy no longer means without rulers, it means chaos and revolution and violence and all kinds of nasty things. People hijack and redefine words to suit their agenda. I recognize this and am simply using the words with the new definitions.

Thanks for sharing, it's interesting to see that in France it hasn't been redefined.

Andrew: Yes and no.

Yes. Correct. In the Classical sense, not in the American sense. Remember, before Lincoln, Republicans generally supported big government to create infrastructure for business, such as a nationwide currency. Lincoln himself was "Republican." Democrats, typically small plantation owners in the south, wanted less government because they thought the added infrastructure would give the advantage to large businesses.

After the economic infrastructure the government made was complete platforms switched. Republicans did not need government anymore and are now associated with being for "less government."

The reason there is a misconception is because the name stuck and Democrats are still labeled as "liberal" but are associated with supporting more government economically in the United States because of the 180 degree change to the party platforms.

Earl: Agree with Ben

I like the overall discussion and believe Ben's comments are valid additions. The distinction lies between Liberal and Social Liberal. Most of the founding fathers would have been considered Classical Liberals though some were showing tendencies toward Lertarianism. The Bill of Rights are evidence of Liberal thought over those who felt they were unnessisary and incomparable with the form of government they were trying to establish. The Federal Papers are a running discourse of this argument.

Quinton Figueroa: Appreciate the response but
@Earl (view comment)

Appreciate the response but no, this doesn't matter. When people use the word Liberal today the vast majority are not talking about Classical Liberals. Just like when people use the word gay today they're not talking about lighthearted and carefree. Words change. Look, I get what the word Liberal means and what it implies, which is why it was hijacked in the first place, but most people do not. And since I'm communicating to most people, not people like Ben or you who get it, I am going to speak in their language.

TC: Cool article

Hey man just wanted to say nice article! I agree with pretty much everything you said here it makes sense. I find it sad how many people seem brainwashed into believing we need government for so many things.

Anonymous: hum hum

hum hum

Sick of socialism : There are no boundaries

No matter what the parties are supposed to stand for the bottom line is to get elected. The more you promise the have nots, the more power the government, elected has. Don't trust anyone who thinks more government is better. They can't run anything efficiently. Promise the world on the backs of the middle class. Less government!

David: I found this to be a very

I found this to be a very enlightful article, especially for those who are just starting to take a concern in government and politics. However, I would suggest taking a closer look at some of your tables, there seems to be a couple of errors. Particularly in table 4 and 5. But still a fantastic and delightful reading.
P.S. what about moderates?

wende: Thank you for the

Thank you for the clarification for someone new to American politics! Modern Day American Liberal really confuses me with their contradicting ideologies.

Miranda: Post office is already run by the people

So I know you are just putting things in perspective but just so you know.. The US post office is not owned or run by the government. It broke free from government rule a while back. It's sole income is from stamps (the users).. don't want to get too far off your topic but just thought I would suggest you not use that as an example. :)

Galina: Political Ideology

Accurately defining political ideologies is not an easy thing. Strictly adhering to the postulates of any of them is even more difficult. The most important thing when it comes to politics is to look for, and attempt to implement, those postulates of each of the political ideologies that, when implemented at the same time, best serve the majority of the population. That is what democracy aims at. Unfortunately, neither a single ideology, nor the balanced implementation of the best postulates of each of them, will ever satisfy the whole population.

Redbox: Utter waste of time

Social freedom and economic freedom on the same axis facing opposite directions? Didn't bother to read the body paragraphs after that bullshit. Jumped to conclusion and just as expected, another pile of shit that explicitly "implies" that libertarian stance is more sensible than other political ideologies represented in the post. No wonder this person has faith in Jesus and believes "some humans" are "superior" to others. What an utter waste of time.

Ambrosianus: Communist revolution and

Communist revolution and authoritarian left wing regime NOW I DEMAND IT!!!!!!

Michael Eisbrener: Where do you place a rational anarchist?

The bigger the GOV the bigger the stench. Currently Spain is figuring it out they don't need one. Disband all nation legislatures and allow people their lives.

Quinton Figueroa: It would depend on the type
@Michael Eisbrener (view comment)

It would depend on the type of anarchist. You have the capitalist flavor and the socialist flavor of anarchist. Both would agree on no government. But the degrees of socialism and capitalism would differ.

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