Conservatism Key Thinkers


Key Thinkers:

  • Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan (1951)
  • Edmund Burke: Reflections on the revolution in France (1790)
  • Michael Oakeshott: On being conservative (1956)
  • Ayn Rand: The virtue of selfishness (1964)
  • Robert Nozick: Anarchy state and utopia (1974)

Strands of Conservatism: 

  • Traditional Conservatism (Reactionary/ Non-reactionary)
  • One Nation Conservatism
  • New Right (neo liberal (promote free market capitalism & reduction in spending), neo conservatives)

Core Ideas:

  • Human imperfection, organic society state
  • pragmatism (flexible approach), empiricism
  • tradition, paternalism (protection from harm - noblesse oblige), libertarianism (minimal state intervention)
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Thomas Hobbes:

  • his form can be classified as authoritarian or reactionary conservatism

Key Ideas:

  • Humans are imperfect and self seeking desiring power - 'state of nature'
  • Humans were rational enough to see that they needed protection from themselves
  • pessimistic view of human nature
  • autocratic - dictator -> use control to gain power of people
  • individuals would seek a social contract (associated with John Locke) with an autocratic leader and give up their freedom in return for protection
  • John Locke social contract - give consent to leader and can withdraw if they harm
  • Hobbes social contract gave power to a leader permanently, who will protect us, giving us an autocracy
  • hierarchies are essential to preserve order. Those in authority gain their legitimacy from their position in the hierarchy - these ideas feed into conservative views on law and order
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Edmund Burke:

  • 'change in order to conserve', traditional non reactionary conservative

Key Ideas:

  • organic society must sometimes change to conserve guided by history, pragmatism and empiricism
  • human imperfection means it is not possible for humans to create abstarct ideas that work
  • social order must not be sacrificed for utopian (perfect, idealistic) ideas
  • free market is the natural state of the market and the state should protect laissez faire capitalism
  • that society could change after careful consideration, unlike reactionary
  • Disraeli didn't intervene in the economy - he played a central role in the creation of the conservative party and gave working class the right ot vote
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Michael Oakeshott:

Key Ideas:

  • conservatism is a natural disposition rather than an ideology
  • negative view on human nature means intellectual imperfection. Therefore, excessive focus on rational planning policies that are flawed
  • keynesianism - spending affecting empolyment/inflation
  • free market is the normal state of the market
  • intervention limited to pragmatic moderation
  • 'to be conservative then is to prefer the familiar to the unknown to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery'
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Disraeli & Macmillan:

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Ayn Rand:

Key Ideas:

  • individuals are rational and their highest moral purpose is to achieve personal happiness
  • belief in objectivism - individuals should be guided by self interest to achieve self realisation and fulfiment
  • atomistic society - belief in individual society opposite to society being collective]
  • oppressed welfare provision preferring voluntarism
  • belief in the individual meant she supported homosexuality and abortion
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Robert Nozick:

Key Ideas:

  • minarchism - minimal state
  • states primary function is to protect individual rights
  • free to practice their own moral codes

tensions within conservatism oh human nature, economy, role of state:

  • main fault like within conservatism is between traditional and the new right
  • division caused by different views on human nature (traditional = negative view, neo liberals = positive view)

tensions within the new right (neo liberals, libertarians, neo conservatives):

  • both are opposed to intervention in the free market
  • fiscal conservative is against huge or undeed any government spending
  • neo conservative are more pragmatic on the economy
  • neo conservatives also have a more conservative view on moral issues
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