At the core of the discussion between liberals and conservatives is a key philosophical difference. That philosophical difference is seen in the answer to this question:
Are people basically good or basically evil?
There is a third option, tabula rasa, is the idea that people are a blank slate, neither good nor evil until they are taught to be so.
At the heart of conservatism is this assumption: people are basically evil. At the heart of liberalism is the other assumption: either people are basically good, or they are a blank slate (and we just need to program them the right way.)
I won’t go into much of the philosophical reasons for thinking one or the other things, but I will point out the implications in relation to government.
First, the conservative viewpoint. People are basically evil. Note: all people, not just other people or “those” people. When conservatives see BLM celebrating the murder of cops, or ISIS claiming credit for the killing of an elderly priest, we see ourselves. We know that without government, we would likely be doing the same things they are doing.
By government, I mean “governing” as in that thing you do to yourself and others to keep them behaving well and properly. Good government starts with self-government and self-mastery. This involves introspection and circumspection and careful consideration of the effects of our choices on our lives and others, and carefully selecting one course over another being aware of the fact that we are fallible, mortal beings prone to evil.
Once you can properly govern yourself, then you govern others, starting with your family and then reaching out into the community and the nation. Those who cannot govern themselves really have no right to govern others, while those who have mastered the government of self are likely good candidates for governing others.
While we recognize the need of government, self and otherwise, we also recognize the fact that governors are made of the same mortal, fallible and evil stuff as we are. Thus, you need to govern the government. This is the purpose behind the strict limits that the constitution places on our federal government, why it reads like a short list of things the government can do and a long, long list of thing the government cannot do. This is also why we like to keep a close eye on what government is doing and sound the alarms whenever it approaches those limits or dares to look over them.
In this way, we can create a system where basically evil creatures can act mostly good, most of the time.
There are parallels in the real world. Take, for instance, engineering. We know that we are fallible, illogical creatures and yet we are not only able to discern principles that govern how things behave, but create systems that are reliable when their components are not reliable. By carefully managing the complexities and intricacies of a design, we can uncover a combination that will self-govern to eliminate error. It takes a lot of work to get it right, and when you think you have it right, it takes even more work to make sure you know you have it right, but it can be done, as long as you follow some basic principles and don’t cut any corners.
People who believe that people are basically good logically shouldn’t see the need for any government. The only thing government can do is limit people from being the best they can be. Note that conservatives are not against government, they simply want limited, constrained government. People who advocate no government would be properly called anarchists, which means, literally, “no ruler.” In anarchy, people would be able to exercise their goodness to the fullest extent.
If there is a government, then these same people would advocate for unlimited powers for that government, for much of the same reason. If people are basically good, then we can trust the government, which is made of people, to be basically good.
Of course, I’ve only met a few people who actually believe that all people are basically good. Most try to juggle basic philosophy by saying “These people are basically good, while those people are basically evil.” This is nothing short of racism, classism, and every sort of -ism you can imagine. The lines we draw between good and evil people are arbitrary and capricious. Those who participate in this should worry that one day, they will be on the wrong side of that line.
Perhaps they try to resolve this philosophical dilemma with tabular rasa. Maybe it’s not fundamental human nature to be good or evil, but a product of our environment. To me, this is the worst sort of philosophy because of what it concludes.
The natural conclusion is, “We must teach everyone to be good!” If only it were that simple! Nevertheless, this is the driving force behind spending untold trillions on public education. Needless to say, it has been a colossal waste and failure. Build as many schools as you like, send as many teachers you like, and fund them with as much money as you like, you can never force anyone to get educated. At best, you can provide means, but in the end, it is up to them to obtain it for themselves.
The other natural conclusion is the horror of classism. That is, put the people with the proper education in control, and send the rest to forced education camps. You may catch a scientist expressing sentiments like these, uttered in phrases like “If only smart people ran the government” or “the science is simple, so simple only government can screw it up.” I beg people who hold these ideas to consider why they think they are superior to others, what makes them worthy to lead or decide while others with human brains that don’t operate much different than theirs should simply fall in line and obey without hesitation. The natural conclusion of this sort of thinking is the key element behind the ancient evil of aristocracy (rule by the noble). Sure, they may think they are setting up a perfect system that can never be corrupted, but it is odd, isn’t it, how that system often goes horribly corrupt even before the first generation has passed away?
Philosophy is an important thing. The way you see the world, especially the way you see others, will dramatically influence the types of choices you make and the value system you see. Until we learn that we are all basically evil, we really haven’t a hope to overcoming that evil.