Let’s see how liberal and conservative approaches, as formed by the six moral foundations, look at what is, perhaps, the greatest overarching issue that divides liberal and conservative thought: the size and reach of the government.
Generally speaking, liberals favor a bigger and broader government while conservatives are looking to contract the size and reach of the government.
The liberal position is in alignment with the moral foundation of care: the government has an obligation to care for its citizens and the best way to do so is by creating a larger and stronger government that can address the myriad needs of our citizens. The conservative position is driven by the moral foundation of liberty: the government should restrict its encroachment on the rights of citizens to those limited areas where it is absolutely necessary.
The Care Perspective
The liberal viewpoint is formed by the position that the government must care for the needs of its citizens from cradle to grave. Just as government provides for the needs of all of its citizens through things such as the interstate highway system and Social Security, the government should establish programs to care for the needs of its citizens in many other areas. When people are hungry, the government has an obligation to provide them with fish. Relying solely on individuals and non-governmental institutions to care for these needs is not a workable model, since they often lack the motivation, resources and capabilities.
While larger social services programs may lead to higher taxes, this is a necessary evil to provide for these needs.
Liberals also realize that by creating a larger federal government, there will be certain restrictions placed on liberty, but just as we are willing to restrict liberty when the security of the nation is at risk, we must do so when the care of the nation’s citizens is at issue.
The Liberty Perspective
Conservatives agree that we must provide a safety net for the elderly, infirm or disabled. However, conservatives believe that services beyond the safety net should be limited. The best way to provide these additional services is not by just giving people fish, but by teaching them to fish. Individuals and non-governmental institutions are good ways to provide these services without the bureaucratic overhead that comes with governmental programs.
The second major objection to big government is the fact that the cost is covered by higher taxation on the citizenship. This redistribution of wealth reduces individual freedom and inhibits the creation of a more self-sufficient citizenry. When deciding whether to add government programs these considerations must be at the forefront from a liberty perspective.
The common ground on the issue can be found in the fact that both liberals and conservatives value care and liberty, but with the recognition that there will be an inverse relationship between the two. More care encroaches on liberty, while more liberty reduces the amount of direct care provided. Looked at this way, the issues can be transformed from emotionally divisive ones to questions of what are the best practical ways to provide for the needs of the citizenry while balancing the foundations of care and liberty.