Years ago, someone defined reactionaries as those who would take away what the people have, conservatives as those who would not give the people more than what they already have, liberals as those who would give the people enough to keep them quiet, and progressives as those who would give people what they deserve.
This was generally true at one time, but it is quite apparent that there has been a rightward shift in ideologies, so that today’s conservatives are like the former reactionaries, and so on down the line. Today’s reactionaries are now obstructionists or anarchists, not wanting the government to function as it was designed to do. (The term paleo-conservatism can usefully be applied to the earlier conservatives.)
Conservatism has always been, to a large degree, aligned with wealth and privilege, and liberalism somewhat less so, but today’s conservatives are firmly aligned with wealth and privilege, with liberalism trailing not far behind.
Thus, in discussions concerning contemporary conservatism and liberalism, it makes no sense to define these ideologies in any but the modern senses.
In parallel with the rightward shift of ideologies, there has been a rightward shift in propaganda, which now characterizes liberalism as left-wing, even socialistic. The irony in a rightward shift in liberal ideology being called a leftward shift should be obvious.
This situation is similar to that which obtained in the former Soviet Union, where editors of Tass and Pravda, both tightly controlled government news outlets, often accused one another of infidelity to the government line.
In the present case, any deviation from the current conservative (formerly reactionary) ideology is deemed to be extremely left-wing, even traitorous. This extreme characterization is another impediment to rational discussion. It implies that there is no rational alternative to conservative ideas and policies.
In practice, today’s conservatism is a combination of old and new–that is, of not extending new benefits to the people, and of taking away benefits that the people already have, while working to further enrich the already-wealthy.
In concrete terms, today’s conservatives balk at strengthening, and are trying to reduce, the social safety net (Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, food stamps, and much else), while moving to cut taxes and increase subsidies and other benefits for wealthy corporations and individuals.
The result of all this is that today’s conservative ideology, propaganda, and behavior make it nearly impossible to even discuss, let alone prevent, our slide into plutocracy and corporatism (corporate fascism). The meanness of spirit inherent in today’s conservatism can only portend severe oppression of the majority in the future.