Contemporary meanings of "Liberal" and "Conservative" describe the political outlooks of individuals and institutions. These points of view are often informed by how much governmental institutions should be involved in society. Positions on social values also plays a role. The exact political reality of both words differs from country to country.

Liberalism

Liberalism has a long history in political philosophy, growing out of desire for democracy over feudal systems of kingdoms. Current incarnations of the word, within American politics, refers to the belief that government can provide useful tools and resources to citizens. Liberal policymaking is also guided by a vision of social justice.

Conservatism

Conservative thinking wishes to tinker with institutions and society as little as possible. This entails a scaled-back vision of governance, one that does not see government as a resource for citizens. Maintaining perceived traditions, both political and cultural, are often a focal point.

Misnomers

Liberalism and socialism are not the same thing. Socialism, as demonstrated by twentieth-century history, is an economic system where ownership is tightly controlled by the state. Conservatism and fascism are also not the same thing. Fascism is a system of totalitarian governance were power is highly concentrated into the hands of an few, who exercise it disproportionately over a population.