Key Thinkers in Conservatism

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Edmund Burke (1729-97)

  • Whig politician
  • Sympathetic towards American Revolution (1776)
  • Critical of French Revolution (1789)
  • Wrote "Reflections on the Revolution in France" (1790)
  • Opposed to French principles of 'liberty, equality, fraternity'
  • Believed wisdom lay in experience, tradition and history
  • Suggested "change in order to conserve" - a.k.a pragmatism
  • Government prevents evil but struggles to promote good
  • Economics of Adam Smith (free-market) due to belief in 'natural law'
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Thomas Hobbes (1588-79)

  • Wrote Leviathan (1651)
  • Absolutist government is the only alternative to anarchy and disorder
  • Citizens have an obligation to the state
  • Rationalised authoritarianism
  • Critical of the 'divine right of kings'
  • Used social contract theory (a liberal principle)
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Friedrich von Hayek (1899-92)

  • Taught at LSE
  • Won Nobel Prize for Economics (1974)
  • Believed in individualism and market order
  • Critical of Socialism
  • Wrote 'The Road to Serfdom' (1944), 'The Constitution of Liberty' (1960) and 'Law, Legislation and Liberty' (1979) 
  • Attacked economic interventionism
  • Supported constitutionalism
  • Impact on the New Right
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Robert Nozick (1938-02)

  • Wrote 'Anarchy, State and Utopia' (1974)
  • Developed rights-based libertarianism
  • Property rights should be strictly upheld
  • Implies support for minimal government and minimal taxation
  • Challenges the case for welfare and redistribution
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Adam Smith (1723-90)

  • Founder of the 'dismal science'
  • Wrote 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments' (1759)
  • Tried to reconcile human self-interestedness with unregulated social order
  • Also wrote 'The Wealth of Nations' (1776)
  • Emphasised the importance of the division of labour
  • Seen as a cautious laissez-faire economist
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Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81)

  • Founder of 'One-nation conservatism'
  • UK Prime Minister in 1868 and again in 1874
  • Wrote two novels: Sybil (1845) and Coningsby (1844)
  • Emphasis on the principle of social obligation, in contrast to the extreme individualism which was dominant at the time
  • Worried about Britain becoming divided in to 'two nations: the Rich and the Poor'
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