I've long said that the terminology of "left/liberal/democrat versus right/conservative/republican" in American politics bugs me because each side of that artificial dichotomy isn't a single idea, but a random amalgamation of ideas that are, in truth, completely unrelated.
Lately, I think I've come to understand what "left versus right" is really about. I claim it comes down to five prime conflicts, and they're found together so often just because of bandwagon thinking and self-perpetuating parenting.
- Axis 1: Communism.
The left favors increasing degrees of communism, while the right is better (but still bad) at remembering the individual people's rights and consent being violated by all government actions.
This goes outside of government. The left often favors forced equality to the point of disregarding individuals' differing merit, while the right prefers to judge individuals on their actions even if their actions are unequal.
- Axis 2: Gender roles.
The right believes that gender has some kind of divinely ordained meaning (even if they wouldn't say that directly) and that it determines to a significant extent what role a person should play in society and in their relationships.
The left rejects gender roles.
- Axis 3: The perversion of sex.
The right also holds that any type of sexual relationship which is not exclusive or not between an adult man and an adult woman and formally recognized by some authority (usually a church, or the government for an atheist rightist) is inherently and extremely depraved.
The left, on the other hand, usually believes that sex has no special value but is just a way to derive pleasure.
However, leftists still usually abhor pedophilia, even if it's totally consensual on both ends.
- Axis 4: The invention of gender identity.
Contradicting their claim about gender being unimportant, the left claims that gender is a psychological "identity" which is chosen by the individual and you're a hateful bigot if you ever suggest that changing your "gender identity" is a less-than-admirable thing to do.
The right does not invent a fake concept of gender as separate from sex.
- Axis 5: Partisan counter-bigotry.
A contingent claim by the left that white, straight, cisgender, upper-class, males are the dominant class and an automatic negativity toward them that can range in magnitude from mild suspicion to insane bigotry. And I'm not just talking about the double standard on physical assault that you see quite often even outside of movies. Some liberals are way worse (be prepared for explicit content if you follow that link).
The right lacks this claim.
Having understood this, I'm finally comfortable feeling hostile toward "liberals" despite the intense ill-definedness of the label. Liberals are horrifically wrong on four out of five axes, while conservatives are wrong on only three, and on 1 and 3 their errors are less severe than the left's.
Libertarians, far less often discussed, tend to have all of these axes right except axis 3 (where they take a left position). I think this is because "libertarianism" is the only one of these labels that actually maps to a single idea: the non-aggression principle (or stated in Protagonist terms, the valuation of Consent as close to the only moral value). Libertarians are the most consistent, although to really be consistent in that idea you have to be an anarchist.