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Dec 14, 2015
Presented by
Dennis Prager

How do you want to improve America? By focusing on improving and refining yourself? Or by transforming society? The answer to that question will reveal whether you're on the Left or the Right.

Dennis Prager's Left-Right Differences Series Part 5: How Do We Make Society Better? How do Conservatives and Liberals differ?

Conservatives believe that you can’t make a society better without first making its people better. 

  • Conservatives believe that the way to a better society is almost always through the moral improvement of the individual—each person doing battle with his or her own weaknesses and flaws. The Left, on the other hand, believes the way to a better society is almost always through doing battle with society’s moral failings—whether that’s sexism, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, and all the other evils the Left believes permeate American society.View Source
  • This is why the Left is almost solely focused on political solutions, while conservatives often look to means of personal moral improvement—like strong families, religion, and a moral education.View Source
  • Conservatives agree with John Adams, who famously said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”View Source
  • Benjamin Franklin expressed a similar sentiment, writing, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”View Source
  • Related reading: The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph – Dennis PragerView Source

The Left believes a better society comes through battling society’s moral failings, rather than personal moral improvement.

  • Conservatives believe that the way to a better society is almost always through the moral improvement of the individual—each person doing battle with his or her own weaknesses and flaws. The Left, on the other hand, believes the way to a better society is almost always through doing battle with society’s moral failings—whether that’s sexism, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, and all the other evils the Left believes permeate American society.View Source
  • This is why the Left is almost solely focused on political solutions, while conservatives often look to means of personal moral improvement—like strong families, religion, and a moral education.View Source
  • Conservatives agree with John Adams, who famously said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”View Source
  • Benjamin Franklin expressed a similar sentiment, writing, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”View Source
  • Related reading: The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: Is the Welfare State Justified? – Daniel ShapiroView Source

The Left often seeks immediate solutions to large problems, while conservatives believe most meaningful change is achieved gradually. 

  • Conservatives believe that change is achieved gradually, one generation at a time. The Left, on the other hand, often focuses on social revolution—forcing immediate and often dramatic changes to a society and culture.View Source
  • Conservatives emphasize holding on to what is good and important in society and continuity between generations, while the Left often pushes for breaks from a society’s political and cultural past.View Source
  • WATCH: Dennis Prager on the importance of moral character in a free society.View Source
  • Related reading: Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: Is the Welfare State Justified? – Daniel ShapiroView Source

While the Left wants to “fundamentally transform” the US, conservatives want to preserve all that makes America fundamentally good. 

  • Days before the 2008 election, Obama declared that he wanted to “fundamentally transform the United States of America”—a statement cheered by his large audience of supporters because it captured the spirit of the Left’s desires for America, to see it drastically changed. Conservatives, on the other hand, view America as largely good, a country whose laws, principals, and traditions are worth preserving. The best way to improve society in the conservative view is to encourage individuals to improve themselves.View Source
  • WATCH: Dennis Prager on the importance of moral character in a free society.View Source
  • Related reading: The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: After the Welfare State – Tom G PalmerView Source
  • Related reading: Is the Welfare State Justified? – Daniel ShapiroView Source

The Left believes the best way to make society better is by expanding government, rather than encouraging people to improve themselves.

  • The Left is almost solely focused on political solutions, while conservatives often look to means of personal moral improvement—like strong families, religion, and a moral education.View Source
  • Expanding the scope of government into a welfare state undermines individual care for citizens and charitable activities. The welfare state is inherently unstable, as it rewards those who do not work by taking money from those who are productive. The result is a “cultural narcissism,” a devaluation of work, increases in state corruption, and the weakening of the family.View Source
  • WATCH: Dennis Prager on the importance of moral character in a free society.View Source
  • Related reading: The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: After the Welfare State – Tom G PalmerView Source
  • Related reading: Is the Welfare State Justified? – Daniel ShapiroView Source

Our schools are producing Americans passionate about fixing the country while doing next to nothing about fixing their own character.

  • Much of the emphasis of modern education is teaching students to look for political solutions to societal problems, rather than encouraging individual moral improvement. WATCH: Dennis Prager on the importance of moral character in a free society.View Source
  • Related reading: The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph – Dennis PragerView Source

Historically, the two primary conveyors of self-control are fathers and religion.   

  • Historically, fathers and religion have been the primary conveyors of self-control—which is part of the reason conservatives value families and religious freedom so highly. Moral individuals are essential to a moral society.View Source
  • WATCH: Dennis Prager on the importance of moral character in a free society.View Source
  • Related reading: The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code – Dennis PragerView Source
  • Related reading: Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph – Dennis PragerView Source

A major difference between the Right and the Left concerns the way each seeks to improve society.

Conservatives believe that the way to a better society is almost always through the moral improvement of the individual -- by each person doing battle with his or her own weaknesses and flaws.

It is true that in violent and evil societies such as Fascist, Communist, or Islamist tyrannies the individual must be preoccupied with battling outside forces. Almost everywhere else, though, certainly in a free and decent country such as America, the greatest battle of the individual must be with inner forces -- that is, with his or her moral failings.

The Left, on the other hand, believes that the way to a better society is almost always through doing battle with society’s moral failings. Thus, in America, the Left concentrates its efforts on combatting sexism, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, and the many other evils that the Left believes permeate American society.

One important consequence of this Left-Right distinction is that those on the Left are far more preoccupied with politics than those on the Right. Since the Left is so much more interested in fixing society than in fixing the individual, politics inevitably becomes the vehicle for societal improvement. That’s why whenever the term “activist” is used, we almost always assume that the term refers to someone on the Left.

Another consequence of this Left-Right difference is that, since conservatives believe society is changed one person at a time, they accept that change happens gradually. This isn’t fast enough for the Left, which is always and everywhere focused on social revolution. An excellent example of this was a statement by the then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, just days before his first election in 2008. To a rapturous audience, he declared: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

Conservatives not only have no interest in fundamentally transforming the United States of America, they are strongly opposed to doing so. Conservatives understand that fundamentally transforming any society that isn’t fundamentally bad -- not to mention transforming what is one of the most decent societies in history -- can only make the society worse. Conservatives believe that America can be improved, but should not be transformed, let alone fundamentally transformed.

The Founders of the United States recognized that the transformation that every generation must work on is the moral transformation of each citizen. Thus, character development was at the core of both child rearing and of young people’s education -- from elementary school through college.

As John Adams, the second president, said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And in the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”

Why is that? Because freedom requires self-control. The freer the society, the more self-control is necessary. If the majority of people don't control themselves, the state -- meaning an ever more powerful government -- will have to control them.  From the founding of the United States until the 1960s, schools -- and parents -- concentrated on character education. But, with the ascent of left-wing ideas, character education has all but disappeared from American schools. Instead, children are taught not to focus on their flaws but on America’s. Social issues have replaced character education. An example is a new K-12 science curriculum, the “Next Generation of Science Standards,” which will teach young Americans -- starting in kindergarten -- about global warming.

And when they get to college, American young people will be taught about the need to fight economic inequality, “white privilege,” and the alleged “rape culture” on their campuses. Ironically, if there really is a rape culture that permeates American college campuses, the only reason would have to be that there is so little character education in our schools, or for that matter, at home. Fathers and religion, historically the two primary conveyers of self-control, are nonexistent in the lives of millions of American children.

We are now producing vast numbers of Americans who are passionate about fixing America while doing next to nothing about fixing their own character.

The problem, however, is that you can't make society better unless you first make its people better.

I'm Dennis Prager.

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