The core ideas of Conservatism

  • Created by: dbrennan
  • Created on: 23-05-19 17:22

Human nature

  • Regressive point of view.
  • Human frailty and fallibility.
  • A philosophy of imperfection.
  • Descriptive not prescriptive view.
  • Human nature is as it is not as it should be.
  • Fixed and constant.
  • Politicians to accomodate, not alter it.
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  • Society is a collection of localised communities/'little platoons'.
  • Communities provide their individuals with security, status and inspiration.
  • Community acts as a break upon selfish individualism.


  • Cannot be created, it emerges gradually and organically.
  • Reality of an unplanned, organic society proves that human life is subject to complex forces beyond the scope of reason. 
  • Like a plant, growing in a way that can never be wholly predicted.


  • Deal with social issues in a practical, evidential way.
  • Deal with society with an 'this is how it is' attitude.
  • Conservative society aims to stay afloat rather than sail towards a specific destination. 
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Human nature


  • Customs and habits provide security.
  • Change must be slow and steady, respectful and not contemptous of the past. 
  • Evolutionary attitude social improvement.


  • Imperfections of humanity lead seamlessly to inequalities with human nature.
  • 'The wiser, stronger and more opulent' establish a hierarchy of power and privilege. 
  • Privilege of power and authority comes with great responsibility. 
  • Paternalism/noblesse oblige: the fatherly obligation that a ruling class has to society as a whole.
  • Hard paternalism: elites decide what is best for the rest, irrespective of what the rest want.
  • Soft patneralism: power rests with elites but elite decisions will usually be preceded by listening to what the non-elites want. 
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Human nature

Judeao-Christian morality:

  • Strong attatchment to religion.
  • Traditional family structure (adverse to gay marriage).
  • Alturism and compassion will help bind individuals together and curb the imperfections. 
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The state

Order and authority:

  • Displinary function.
  • Main goal: ordder, security and authority.
  • Without order there is no liberty.
  • No order until there are clear, undisputed laws backed by firm authority.
  • State precedes society. 
  • State measures the feasability of individual rights as they are depedant upon law and order.

Organic origins:

  • Favour a gradual, unpredictable and organic state.
  • Pragmatic in response to humanity's needs.
  • Do not demand a codified constiution as much.
  • Uncodified/unwritten constitutions evolve organically in response to a constantly changing mankind. 
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The state

A ruling-class:

  • Hierarchical, elitist society.
  • Traditional conservative state realises the notion of a ruling class (power is aristocratic and hereditary rather than democratic). 
  • Merits of class that are born and trained to rule the state.
  • The ruling class must be mindful of its paternalistic responsibilities to society as a whole.
  • Pragmatic/empirical characterisits: necessary legislation when there is a need for new laws.
  • These new laws should ensure order and social cohesion.
  • Averts social upheaval and revolution while maintaing traditional patterns of wealth and power. 
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The economy

  • Captialism nutures, widens economic inequalities, widens the gap between rich and poor.
  • Conservatism defends inequality and hierarchy.
  • Burke (Conservative) and Smith (Liberal): close allies. 
  • Adam Smith: father of laissez-faire economics.
  • Conservatism and liberalism overlap.
  • Conservatism worships order, stability and continuity.
  • Free-market captialism: promotes risk, innovation & iconoclasm (rejection of cherished/traditional beliefs). 
  • Capitalism has a dynamic nature, which threatens Conservatives.
  • Sceptical view of human nature because radical change can cause dreadful outcomes.
  • Traditional conservatives: reluctant supports of capitalism but still protect its principles.
  • Any assault on capitalism is also an assault property, inequality, hierarchy and the status quo.
  • Sceptical of classical and neo-liberal belief: markets are at their most effective when left alone by governments. 
  • Conservatives are sceptical and pessimistic: lack of optimism in free market forces. 
  • Traditional conservatives support a moderate view of capitalism: free markets are tempered by state intervention (protectionism).
  • Protectionsim: society and economy protected against the changes of markets by state-imposed tariffs and duties.
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The economy

  • Protectionism also protects national producers and consumers: reinforces national identity and one nation conservatism.
  • Traditional conservatives: Keynsian economics (the state manages market forces in the interest of full-employment). 
  • New-Right: sympathetic view of free market economies.
  • New-Right governments of Thatcher (1979-1990): aimed to 'free' the UK economy through privatisation of industries.
  • Some new-right economics compliments traditional conservative economics.
  • New-right: by disengaging almost completely from the economy, state can focus on its Hobbesian purpose of order and security. 
  • New-right: free-market economy will be a prosperous one.
  • New-right: free-market economy may promote popular capitalism-destroy socialism.
  • New-right: free-market economy may fund greater public spending on the emergency services and the army (vital to the defence of society). 
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The tensions within Conservatism (Human nature)

Human nature:

  • Traditional conservatives (Burke & Oakeshott): sceptical, show the gap between aspiration and achievement, oppose the utopian schemes of progressive politicians. 
  • Traditional conservatives: more regressive than new-right conservatives.
  • Traditional conservatives: horrified by idealistic movements (french and russian revolution) because they say they arise from an overestimation of human potential.
  • New-right: more optimistic. 
  • New-right (Nozick and Rand): positive view of human potential in the economic sphere: the key to unlocking human potential lies in fostering a pro-capitalist environment, where individual energies can emerge. 
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The tensions within Conservatism (Society)


  • Traditional conservatives: society is a collection of small communities.
  • Burke: "little platoons".
  • Traditional conservatives: society has a hierarchy in which paternalistic elites exercise their power in the interests of the majority.
  • Small communities: organic, natural emergence, unplanned, maintain tradition and continuity.
  • New-right conservatives: agree with liberals over society.
  • New-right conservatives: more socially-liberal than socially-conservative.
  • New-right conservatives: society is a collection of atomised individuals seeking self-determination.
  • New-right conservatives: more sceptical about paternalistic societies.
  • New-right conservatives: less traditional- disagree with hierarchy and ruling-class as a result of inheritence, agree over a society that is defined by those who have achieved. 
  • New-right conservatives: meritocratic society.
  • Traditional conservatives: aristocratic society. 
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The tensions within Conservatism (The state)

The state:

  • Traditional conservatives (Burke): defend an aristocratic state where people are 'born to rule'.
  • Traditional conservatives: releuctant to admit the need for radical change/do not support new-right governments.
  • Traditional conservatives: natural ruling class, defined by the principles of duty and sacrifice, sense of responsibility towards the governed.
  • Traditional conservatives: pragmatic.
  • Traditional conservatives: prepared to enlarge the state in the name of social stability (one nation conservatism).
  • New-right conservatives: 'roll back the frontiers of the state' to advance individual freedom and reverse dependency culture that traditional conservatives have created.
  • New-right conservatives: fear ruling classes- too much stake in the status quo. 
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The tensions within Conservatism (Economy)


  • Traditional conservatives: sceptical of free-market capitalism. 
  • Traditional conservatives: free-market capitalism is too dynamic- destroy inequality, threatens one-nation and fuels socialism support.
  • Traditional conservatives: capitalism is becoming more globalised- they fear that market forces will promote a more cosmopolitan society which erodes national identity and culture.
  • Traditional conservatives: keynsian economics-higher taxation and higher public spending on state welfare.
  • New-right conservatives (Nozick): free-market economies- state functions are privatised/deregulated, levels of taxation & state spending is are massively reduced. 
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Human nature


  • Property is not a natural right. 
  • Property is inherited through the generations.
  • Ideal society is a patnership between those who are yet to be born.
  • Ongoing maintenance of society reflects the belief that we must change in order to conserve. 
  • Link between property and patneralistic society. 
  • Property ownership provides a platform for property owners to to exercise a duty of care towards society.
  • New-right conservatives:  extend property ownership/property-owning democracy. 
  • New-right conservatives: individual liberty-individualism is best pursued in a society with a hierachy, traditional Judeao-Christian culture. 
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The State

The nation-state:

  • Mid 19th century to mid 20th century: state based on nationhood.
  • Mega-community: all classes which provided a natural basis for the state.
  • Continental conservatives: Nation precedes the state (both are strongly disctinct).
  • British and American conservatives: nation and state are intertwined.
  • State serves the nation (why both countries have constitutions, monarchs, presidents etc). 
  • British conservatives have less enthusiasm for EU.
  • New-Right: the nation-state can be strenghtened by 'rolling back its frontiers'. 
  • Other New-Right thinkers (Nozick & Rand): if the nation-state is burdened by nationalised industries and welfare states, makes its function of focusing on order and security harder.
  • Ayn Rand: "When the state becomes flabby, it also becomes feeble."
  • New-right: streamline the nation-state's functions: 'leaner and fitter'. 
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