Conservatives more often believe in universal absolutes: Some things like authoritarianism are always worse; others like freedom are always better, regardless of cultural differences.
At home in a freewheeling, affluent society, such rigid consistency may seem reactionary, unimaginative and unrealistic. But abroad, it can translate into something different, as more Western conservatives than liberals have supported such troublemaking champions of individual rights as former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky or the Somali-born former Dutch legislator Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Finally, there are tactics. Liberals believe more in universal redemption through nonviolence. Evil is not so much innate as it is a result of poverty, prejudice or some sort of oppression. Its antidote then should be education, understanding, dialogue and diplomacy. So don’t give up on an Assad, demonize Islamists or isolate Hamas.
Conservatives are more likely to believe evil is elemental, so combating and isolating it is the necessary first step in protecting the weaker from harm.
Who, then, condemns religious fanaticism, terrorists and their illiberal state supporters in the Middle East? Not necessarily, as we would expect, contemporary liberals. Instead, they now more often rail about the Patriot Act at home than the jailing or killing of innocents in places like Damascus and Gaza.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and author of “A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.”