Conservatism - Core themes/Types/Thinkers

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It is defined by the desire to conserve with an opposition to change. Traditional conservatism defends established institutions and values on the ground that they safeguard the fragile 'fabric of society', giving security-seeking human beings a sense of stability and rootedness. 

The new right is characterized by a belief in a strong but minimal state, combining economic libertarianism with social authoritarianism. 

Core Values


This emphasis on tradition reflects their religious faith. If the world thought to be fashioned by god, traditional customs and practices in society regarded as 'god-given'. Burke thus believed society was shaped by the 'law of our creator' or what he called 'natural law'. However become increasingly difficult to maintain that tradition reflects the will of god. As the pace of historical change accelerated, old traditions replaced by new ones e.g. free elections, universal suffrage. 

Most conservatives however support tradition without arguing about its divine origins. Burke described society as a partnership between 'those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born'. G.K Chesterton expressed this idea 'tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of classes: our ancestors. It is a democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around'.

Tradition in this sense, reflects the accumulated wisdom of the past. The insitutions and practices have been 'tested by time' and should therefore be preserved for the benefit of the living. This idea reflects a darwinian belief that those institutions and customs that have survived have only done so as they worked and found to be of value. Endorsed by a process of 'natural selection' and fitness to survive. 

Tradition also generates a sense of idenitity for both society and the individual. Established customs and practices are ones individuals recognise, familiar and reassuring. This provides a feeling of 'rootedness' and belonging. It generates social cohesion.

Change creates uncertainty and insecurity and endangers our happiness. Therefore, Tradition encompasses all customs and practices that are familiar and generate security and belonging. 

Oakeshott - argued in favour of traditional values and established customs on the grounds that conservative disposition is to 'prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untested, fact to miserymystery, the actual to the possible'

Human Imperfection

O'sullivan - 'conservatism is a philosophy to human imperfection'

Conservatives argue that human beings are imperfect and unperfectible. Human beings are thought to be psychologically limited and dependent creatures. People fear isolation and instability, they are drawn psychologically to the safe and above all seek security of knowing 'their place'. The belief that people desire security and belonging has led conservatives to emphasize the importance of social order, and to be suspicious of the attractions of liberty. Order ensures stability and security whilst liberty presents choices and can generate change and uncertainty. Hobbes - being prepared to sacrifice liberty in the cause of social order

Pessimistic view of human nature. We are innately selfish


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