Have you ever been confused by all the “isms” of politics – conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, socialism, Marxism, and numerous others? You’re not alone! This article will serve as a guide to help you understand each of these often misunderstood political philosophies.


Dictionary Definition: “a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change, specifically: such as a philosophy calling for lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs (as retirement income or healthcare coverage).”

Notable Conservatives: President Ronald Reagan; Senator Ted Cruz

Conservatives believe that the Federal Government should have limited power over the people. For example, most conservatives believe in free trade, low taxes, and low government spending. While most conservatives would agree with most of the dictionary definition, conservatives do want progress as much as they want to keep traditions. C.S. Lewis once said: “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”


Dictionary Definition: “the principles, policy, or practices of the Republican party of the U.S.”

Notable Republicans: President George W. Bush; Senator John McCain

Republicans believe in a strong national defense, low taxes, and individual responsibility. They tend to support limited government and limited regulation of business and trade, but not necessarily limited government spending. Most Republicans are conservatives, and most conservatives are Republicans. But it is possible to be one and not the other. There are plenty of moderate to liberal Republicans, such as Senators Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins, and plenty of non-Republican conservatives.


Dictionary definition: “a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically: such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (such as those involving race, gender, or class).”

Notable liberals: President Barack Obama; Senator Elizabeth Warren

Liberals tend to believe in government regulation of businesses, a fluid interpretation of the Constitution, and higher taxes in order to fund government programs. Arguably the largest difference between liberals and conservatives is their differing philosophies of the job of the Federal government. Liberals usually trust the government to help fix the problems of society. Conservatives believe that society’s problems should be fixed by individuals and communities. For example, Liberals often support federal government programs which they believe help combat racism or sexism, while conservatives often oppose government interference in race and gender relations, as they believe such interference will make problems worse.


Dictionary definition: “a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.”

Notable Libertarians: Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson; Glenn Beck

Libertarians believe that government should stay out of their lives in pretty much every way. They are against government regulation, not just of business, but of the people in general. Some libertarians are steadfast conservatives, others dedicated liberals. The libertarian party is simply the party that emphasizes liberty above all else.


Dictionary definition: “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

Notable socialists: Fidel Castro; Che Guevara

Socialists believe that the government should impose high taxes on wealthy people, and then redistribute the money to the poor – through government programs. They often support ideas such as free college and the welfare state. Socialists want everyone to have equal or near equal income. This is usually exhibited through big-government policies, which federalize things like education and healthcare.


Dictionary definition: “the political, economic, and social principles and policies advocated by Karl Marx; especially: a theory and practice of socialism including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society.”

Notable Marxists: Karl Marx, Mao Zedong

Marxism is the set of ideas behind Communism (in other words, Communism is the group of policies based on Marxism). Marxism is an extreme form of socialism. But rather than relying on taxes to redistribute wealth, Marxists believe that everything belongs to the government, and that there is no private property. The government is supposed to redistribute this money to the people, but in practice, it can do with it whatever it wants. Marxist/Communist policies are currently implemented in China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. In the past, they have been implemented in countries such as Russia, Ethiopia, and Germany.


Dictionary definition: “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as of that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”

Notable Fascists: Benito Mussolini; Adolf Hitler

A Fascist state is a type of dictatorship, usually one in which the military has a lot of power. Fascists ignore human rights and are obsessed with punishment of criminals. Usually, there is one central media outlet, which only publishes government propaganda. During World War II, Italy was a Fascist country. It was a military regime, in which the people had little freedom. And while Hitler was a Nazi, Nazism is actually a form of Fascism.

Some people use some of these words to insult people who disagree with them. Let’s take the high road and avoid using these words in a divisive way. Instead, use them to discuss our ideas confidently and with class.

Katie M
Katie is a liberty-loving follower of Jesus residing in sunny North Carolina. She strives to empower young women to become leaders and activists for important causes. She loves crafting ideas and proving points and competes in debate and mock trial. Outside of politics, she enjoys music, dance, good books, and good tea.

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