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Politics Essay Questions
To what extent do Conservatives believe in Tradition and Continuity?
A central and recurrent theme of conservatism is its defense of tradition. Tradition refers to values, practices and
institutions that have endured through time and, usually, have been passed down from one generation to the next.
Tradition thus represents continuity with the past.
Conservatives have supported tradition on a number of grounds. Firstly, their emphasis on tradition reflects their
religious faith. Burke believed that society was shaped by the law of our Creator or what he called Natural law.
Therefore, traditional customs and practices in society should be regarded as God given. However, since the 18th
century it has been difficult to maintain the belief that tradition reflects the will of god. As change accelerated, old
traditions were replaced by new ones (e.g. Free elections and universal suffrage) which were seen as manmade.
This shows that early conservatives to a fully extend believed in tradition and authority.
Secondly, Conservative belief in tradition and continuity was expressed by Burke who famously described society
as a `partnership between those living, those who are and those who are to be born'. Chesterton also
articulated tradition as `democracy of the dead'. Tradition in this sense reflects the accumulated wisdom of the
past. The institutions and practices of the past have been tested by time and should therefore be preserved for
the benefit of the living and for generations to come. This notion almost reflects a Darwinian belief in `survival
of the fittest' these institutions and customs have survived only because they worked and been found to be of
value. They have been endorsed by the process of natural selection and demonstrated their fitness to survive. For
example, Conservatives in the UK highly believe that the Institution of the Monarchy should be preserved because it
embodies historical wisdom and experience. The crown gives the British citizens a national loyalty and respect
above political parties.
Thirdly, Conservatives also venerate tradition to a full extent because it generates both society and the individual a
sense of identity. Established customs and Practices are the ones that individuals can recognize this because it is
familiar and reassuring. Tradition provides people with a feeling of `rootedness' and belonging which is all the
stronger because it is historically based. This as a result generates cohesion by linking people to the past and
providing them with a collective sense of who they are. Change on the other hand is a journey to the unknown: it
creates uncertainty and insecurity and so endangers our happiness. This explains conservatives' reluctance about
change and the desire to resist change.
However, evidence to suggest that conservatives do not fully believe in Tradition and continuity came about during
the rise of the New Right. Conservative support traditionalism and continuity was weakened and rejected by the
New right which is a blend of radical, reaction and traditional features. Their radicalism is evident in their efforts to
dismantle interventionist government. Liberal New Right drew on rational theories and abstract principles originall
rejected by the traditional conservatives and so dismisses tradition.
The New Right radicalism is nevertheless reactionary in that both the liberal and conservative new right harks back
to a `golden age' (UK Victoria Times) of economic propriety and moral fortitude. The conservative New Right, on