Political Definitions

What Political Ideology Do You Subscribe To?

While there are a wide range of political ideologies, for the purpose of simplicity, I will describe the main political ideologies that these fall under: Liberalism, Conservatism, Socialism and the “Third Way”.


Key elements of Liberalism include individualism, freedom, reason, equality, toleration, consent and constitutionalism. Variations of Liberals include classic and modern liberalism. Heywood in “Political Ideologies” writes: “Individualism is the core principle of liberal ideology. It reflects a belief in the supreme importance of the human individual as opposed to any social group or collective body. Human beings are seen, first and foremost, as individuals.” Liberalism believes in and values individual freedom (or liberty) and this is given priority over equality, justice or authority. In terms of “reason” liberals believe that the world has a rational structure and that individuals possess the ability to exercise human reason and critical enquiry and therefore make wise judgments on their own behalf and usually for their own best interests. Liberals believe that people are “born equal” and are “morally equal” and are born to an equal playing field to that of others and success is based on their own achievement and therefore support the idea of meritocracy. Liberals believe in “freedom of speech” and tolerance of all speech is enriching to society. Liberals believe in consent or willing agreement between authority as well as social relationship and while they may believe that Government is vital to stability – they do believe in limited Government.


Key elements of Conservatism include tradition, pragmatism, human imperfection, organicism, hierarchy, authority and property. Variations of Conservatives include paternalistic conservatism, neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. Conservatives value tradition and cleave to ideas that have been “tested through time” and which promotes security and stability. Abstract thoughts and principles are distrusted and faith is placed in experience, history and pragmatism – the belief that action should be a product of practical circumstances and practical goals. Invariably, conservatives believe that human beings are corrupted by selfishness, greed and the thirst for power and therefore Government is needed for the enforcement of strict laws and harsh penalties. They believe that a hierarchy of social position and status is a natural part of organic society, that a person’s “station in life” is a product of luck or “accident of birth” and that those more privileged have a duty to care for the “less fortunate”. This belief in hierarchy is also represented in their view of authority where people are governed from the “top down” and give leadership and guidance to those ranking lower in the hierarchy as they are seen to lack knowledge, experience or education. They also believe families to be the “fabric of society”and that property is vital to security, stability and independence from Government.'


Socialism developed “as a reaction against the emergence of industrial capitalism” writes Heywood8. Key elements of socialism are community, fraternity, social equality, need, social class and common ownership. Variations of Socialism include Marxism, Communism and Social-Democracy. The core value of Socialism is the importance of Community – or the social interaction and membership of social groups and collective bodies. The idea that “no man is an Island” also points to the belief that behaviour can be a product of nurture (social factors) rather than nature (innate qualities). Socialists favour co-operation to competition and collectivism over individualism working towards the outcome of building community as opposed to creating further isolation and conflict. What is also central to a Socialist’s point of view is social equality. Unlike the Liberals, Socialists believe that it is not enough that people are considered morally equal – but that socially, there should be equal outcomes and not just equal opportunities. To achieve this, Socialists believe that material benefits should be distributed based on need rather than merit or work. While modern Socialists have moved away from the notion of common ownership, “the Socialist’s goal is either the eradication of economic and social inequalities or their substantial reduction.”9

The Third Way

In the 1990’s, in response to decades in opposition, the British Labour Party came up with a strategy now recognized as the “Third Way.” While upholding the core values of Social-Democracy in terms of social justice, equality and individual freedom, according to Anthony Giddens (academic on the Third Way)10 it was decided that they had to “find a new balance between individual and collective responsibilities…somewhere between the extremes of ‘uncaring’ individualism on the right and ‘costly’ collectivism on the left.” New Zealand’s version of “Third Way”was the Clark-led Labour Government.

To put it in perspective, in New Zealand, the Green Party and Social Democrats would lean more towards Socialism than any other party.  The National Party would lean more towards Conservatism and Act towards Libertarian (Liberals) while the Labour Party takes on the approach of the 'Third Way' described above.


8Heywood, A, (2002). ‘Political Ideologies’. In: (ed), Politics. 2nd ed. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave. P51

9Heywood, A, (2002). ‘Political Ideologies’. In: (ed), Politics. 2nd ed. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave. P52

10Heywood, A, (2002). ‘Political Ideologies’. In: (ed), Politics. 2nd ed. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave.

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