Conservatism First Year University (Britain)

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Key themes:

-          Tradition

o   Natural law – ‘God-given’ practices and customs.

o   Burke – market forces are natural law

o   Endorsed by Darwin’s theory of natural selection

o   G.K. Chesterton (early 20C) “democracy of the dead”

o   Santayana – “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

-          Human Imperfection – links to view of human nature

o   Cons. Is a “philosophy of human imperfection” – O’Sullivan

o   Humans are limited and dependent creatures –pessimistic view unlike liberalism

o   People rely on knowing ‘their place’ in society.

o   T. Hobbes – people should be willing to sacrifice liberty to preserve social order.

o   Refers to the ‘original sin’ in the Bible as human’s greed.

-          Authority and Inequality / hierarchy

o   Meritocracy dismantles class system

o   John Major’s ‘classless society’ proposal – problematic to this cause.

o   Burke – “natural aristocracy” talent is an innate and inbred quality

o   There MUST be leaders and followers

o   Burke – “good order is the foundation of all good things”

-          Organic society

o   Living society – change too quickly will kill it.

o   E.g. Immigration – Enoch Powell “Rivers of Blood” speech.

o   ‘Anomie’ Durkheim – society provides little moral guidance to individuals.

o   Organicism – Thatcher opposed organic society in her statement – “no such thing…”

-          Discipline/order

o   Tougher jail sentences.

o   Links back to human imperfection

-          Morality – Noblesse Oblige

-          Patriotism/nationalism

-          Property

o   Property has psychological and social advs.

o   Those who have their own property are more likely to respect others’ property.

o   Theft is the worst crime.

o    MacMillan’s disgust at Thatcher – “selling off the family silver” in her privatisation.

o    Thatcher did promote some property – Right to Buy schemes.

General Notes:

-          Cons. Portrayed as a negative ideology generally.

-          People have a clearer understanding of what they oppose than what they favour.

-          Viewed as tradition > rational thought.

-          Pragmatism? Opportunism? Or set beliefs?


View of human nature SCEPTICAL:

-          Two Views:

o   Theological – ‘doctrine of original sin’ – humans are essentially selfish creatures

o   Philosophical – Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and the ‘state of nature’. The life of man is ‘nasty, brutish and short’.

Types of conservatism:


o   Joseph de Maistre – defended autocratic rule.

o   Unprepared to accept changes to the ‘ancien regime’.

o   Revolution would weaken the chains that bind people together and lead to a descent into chaos and oppression.

o   Authoritarian rule was stronger in Europe during 19c.

o   More entrenched in Russia

o   Tsar Nicholas I – “orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality!”

o   Populist – people wanted tradition but also has a link to pragmatism…


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