The liberal/conservative dichotomy is usually explained in terms of whether one or the other is evil or just stupid.
Liberals think of themselves as more noble than conservatives because they claim to care more about poor people and minorities, and the environment. They believe conservatives are selfish and greedy, and perhaps evil. Certainly conservatives cannot be right about anything. Liberalism is a feel-good-about-yourself ideology. Liberalism is more of a political ideology than a philosophy of living because many liberals live their own lives in ways little different from how conservatives do, but they are more likely to believe that others should live according to the dictates of liberalism. Liberals are often guilty of a “do as I say not as I do” attitude toward others. Hence, they will adopt a NIMBY attitude to many of the things they advocate for others, such as Ted Kennedy’s and Walter Cronkite’s opposition to wind farms in Nantucket Sound where abundant wind exists almost 24/7/365. See Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy.
Conservatives tend to have less need for self aggrandizement through support for particular social or economic policies. Conservatives have more confidence in other people than liberals, and are more committed to the idea that each individual is better equipped to know what is right and good for himself and his family than “a little elite in Washington D.C..” as Ronald Reagan described it. Conservatives believe that experience has shown time and again that liberal social and economic policies are wrong and harmful, and wonder why liberals can’t see what is obvious. They conclude that liberals are sanctimoniously stupid, with stubbornly poor judgment and a distinct lack of common sense.
Charles Krauthammer has said,
To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.
Liberals not only think conservatives are evil; they think conservatives are insane. See Conservatism as Pathology; Conservative = Crazy and Researchers Find Conservatives Are Indeed Insane. The Widener Law School affair is just the latest example of liberals indulging in the sport of racial politics and sexual politics [the practice of using false charges of racism or sexual misconduct to gain the upper hand against a political foe] and political correctness, all phenomena constituting bedrock features of liberalism as it has evolved over the last 50 years. These are totalitarian ideologies that were born out of liberalism and continue to be nurtured by liberals.
The evil or stupid dichotomy is apparent in politics and these days everything is political. Our betters in government have made it so, to the point of making even the lowly light bulb a political issue. There is literally nothing anymore that is left to individual choice without some political cast that will brand you either a liberal or a conservative, or stupid and perhaps evil.
Here are two insightful comments on these diametrically opposed ways of looking at the world.
James Delingpole in The Telegraph: Are Lefties Incredibly Stupid or Just Plain Evil?
John Hawkins at Right Wing News: Are Liberals Evil or Stupid?
Here is what I would call definitive proof on the matter: Liberals Are Stupid
The liberal and conservative labels we use today denote basic differences that apparently have existed throughout time, at least since human beings began to think beyond their own small tribe of hunter gatherers and form governments with the power to make laws that everyone must follow. The following books are valuable texts for anyone who interest is piqued:
This book is out of print but used copies are abundant and a bargain. It’s an attempt to explain the transition from primitive societies to states.
A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, by Thomas Sowell
Sowell identifies two basic ‘’visions” of how the world works, one he called the “unconstrained” vision and the other the “constrained” vision. The former believes human beings are malleable and perfectible if only the “right people” are in charge; the latter holds that human nature is such that human flaws exist which cannot be easily changed but that people respond to incentives. This vision also holds that the best social order inheres in the results of the millions of small decisions people make for themselves in what they perceive to be their own interest, bounded only by rules to prevent them from harming others. As might be guessed, liberals today are of the unconstrained vision and conservatives are mostly of the constrained viewpoint. All good things must necessarily result from trade-offs. Some have referenced the two alternate visions as the utopian vision and the tragic vision. Those terms are unacceptable, however, because they confuse more than they clarify. The unconstrained vision is well represented in the writing of French philosophers Nicolas de Condorcet (1743-1794) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Sowell cites F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, and David Hume as philosophers of the constrained vision.
Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 1: Rules and Order, by F.A. Hayek
Hayek’s thesis is that rules and order will exist even in the absence of written legislation. Often those rules will be more democratic and reasonable and provide spontaneous order superior to what may result from legislation.
For a look at how individual liberty was probably irrevocably impaired by WW I, English History 1914-1945 (Oxford History of England) by A.J.P. Taylor is a valuable source. Amazon has new hardbound copies for $175. I got a used one in perfect condition for five bucks.