Social Conservatism vs. Fiscal Conservatism

Instructor: Matt Lamb

Matt has tutored for six years now, in a variety of subjects including reading, essay writing, chemistry, and theology. He is finishing his M.A. in Political Science this August.

In this lesson, you will learn about the similarities and differences between social conservatism and fiscal conservatism. We'll look at what factors might influence support for social conservatism and fiscal conservatism.

Social Conservatism

Social conservatism is the belief in holding to historical beliefs, often influenced by religion, on so-called social issues. This includes the belief that marriage is only between one man and one woman, that life begins at conception (and that abortion is tantamount to killing a human being), that gender is determined by biology, and that religious organizations and businesses should be free to operate without the government interfering (often referred to as religious liberty or religious freedom).

Social conservatism is often based in religious traditions, but being religious is not a prerequisite for being socially conservative. However, the beliefs of many social conservatives reflects the teachings of conservative Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups. For example, they may believe that since God created every human being, abortion is violating God's will, or a social conservative may know that life begins at conception, so abortion ends a human life, whether or not they are personally religious. Social conservatives are prominent in the Midwest and in the South, the so-called Bible Belt.

Fiscal Conservatism

Fiscal conservatism is the belief that the economy functions best with minimal governmental influence. Fiscal conservatives often support lower taxes and less regulations (laws and rules on how a business is allowed to operate). They are proponents of free-market capitalism - the belief that capital (usually defined as money) is best allocated without government direction. Fiscal conservatives believe that individuals and companies can best respond to the demands of consumers, instead of a government bureaucrat. For example, fiscal conservatives oppose socialized medicine, where the government decides how much doctors make, what treatments are allowed, and millions of other decisions. Instead, fiscal conservatives believe that competition between doctors, hospitals, clinics, and pharmaceutical companies will produce the lowest-cost, highest-quality care.

A Tea Party rally calling for lower taxes and cutting government spending
Tea Party

Supporters of fiscal conservatives can have different names and comprise different groups. Most fiscal conservatives are members of the Republican Party, although some may be members of the Libertarian Party. They may consider themselves Tea Party members, libertarians (ideologically, not the political party), or capitalists. They may be entrepreneurs or managers of businesses. Or they may come from any number of occupations but in general support limited government.

Commonalities and Differences

There is overlap between fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. For example, many Republicans would consider themselves both fiscally and socially conservative. Many politicians and philosophers that influenced or embodied fiscal conservatism also embodied social conservatism. For example, President Ronald Reagan cut taxes and regulations, and he also supported socially conservative positions, such as being opposed to abortion and allowing prayer in the public sphere.

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