More political theorizing! While I was at St. Meinrad I spent a long time thinking about the two big parties in the United States. Now I know that there's a whole historical perspective I'm missing out here (I'm relying on Wikipedia), but I wanted to try and go deeper than my usual conviction that the parties have their own pet ideologies.
I've always believed that the Republicans had an inordinate attachment to the laws of Adam Smith, just as the Democrats had an inordinate attachment to positivism--say, that exemplified by Auguste Comte or AJ Ayer. Even if a particular democrat may be a Christian, there is a kind of 'political positivism'--that is, that whatever might be reasonable to believe for oneself, the law must be atheistic and positivistic, and thus not recognize any system of "oughts" besides the function which human society itself has attached to it.
But that naughty hermenuetic principle keeps gnawing away at my mental conscience, not allowing me to be satisfied with this diganosis, always nagging me that there's more to the story.
Both parties are modern and rationalistic, root and branch. And both parties are entirely unreflective beasts of self-preservation, lacking their former young malleability and adaptability to a changing political atmosphere. Neither shows signs of substantial growth or decay. Both just sit there, like the two women before King David, only both of them are perfectly satisfied to walk home with half the corpse of an infant.
What is behind their competing claims? What drives their priorities, and why do the Republicans seem singularly impotent to enact a program of moral reform if they seem to care so much about it? Why does the Democratic party (if not democrat voters) slavishly cling to a radical pro-abortion platform even when that platform is miles away from the thinking of their own constituency, and losing popular support?
What is the most fundamental ideological difference between the Democrats and Republicans? Well, in fact, this is one case where it is not helpful to try and reduce the differences to one. The names of the parties do in fact refer to collectives of ideas whose unity is contingent; and in fact, other less visible 'political parties' are merely recombinations of those ideas. However, behind the shifting ideas, priorities, and names lies a limited series of competing "threads" of developing philosophies--basic convictions about individual human nature, justice, morality, society, the destiny of civilization, the duty of government, and the definition of 'order'.
There is also the interesting element that, prior to the 1960's, liberalism and conservativism were competing forces within both parties, possibly indicating that my question should not be phrased in terms of parties at all, but the "spectrum." This creates a scenario of multi-layered divisions--for example, the issue of national defense might not actually have anything to do with liberalism or conservativism, just as environmental policies may not have any necessary connection to one party or another. Perhaps 'liberalism' and 'conservativism' are more important terms than their usual party associations.
Yet, according to the Wiki, "Liberal" didn't...