Political theory is a broad field that encompasses a range of ideas and ideologies. One of the most influential and enduring traditions within political theory is conservatism. Conservatism is a political philosophy that emphasizes the importance of tradition, social order, and limited government intervention in the affairs of individuals and society.
Conservatives believe in the value of established institutions and the preservation of traditional values. They view society as a delicate balance that must be maintained, and therefore, they are cautious of change and reform.
Conservatism is a political ideology that advocates for the maintenance of traditional institutions and values. It often involves a skepticism of social change and a defense of traditional values and customs. Conservative political parties and politicians generally support limited government intervention in economic and social affairs, and they tend to favor a strong national defense and law and order. Some well-known definitions of conservatism include:
- “The conservative is the man who is willing to learn from the past, who is aware that the lessons of history are never clear-cut, and who is willing to build on what has been learned.” – Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind
- “Conservatism is the tendency to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.” – Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics
- “Conservatism is the worship of old ways, the glorification of history, the affection for the little platoons and the little traditions, the desire for continuity, the recognition of the slow growth of culture, the repugnance for the man-made, the preference for the tangible over the intangible, the love of what is traditional and familiar.” – Peter Viereck, Conservatism: From John Adams to Churchill
- “Conservatives tend to be skeptical of grand schemes to remake society and human nature. They are often content to live with the imperfections of the world as they find it, and they are often more interested in preserving what they see as the enduring truths and values of the past than in sweeping them away in the pursuit of some utopian vision.” – Encyclopedia Britannica, Conservatism
Conservatism has a long history dating back to the writings of ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. In modern times, conservatism emerged as a political movement during the Enlightenment period in Europe. The early conservative thinkers, such as Edmund Burke, argued for the importance of tradition and the need to preserve social order. Burke believed that society was a living organism that must be nurtured and protected.
The French Revolution, which marked the beginning of the modern era, was a major turning point for conservatism. The upheaval and violence of the Revolution led many to question the ideals of the Enlightenment and to advocate for a more cautious approach to change. As a result, conservatism emerged as a political force that sought to preserve traditional values and institutions.
Ideas and principles
Conservatives believe in a limited role for the government in society and the economy. They advocate for a smaller, more efficient government that does not interfere in the affairs of individuals and businesses. They also believe in personal responsibility and individual liberty, and that individuals should be free to pursue their own goals as long as they do not harm others.
Conservatives also place a strong emphasis on the importance of traditional values and the importance of maintaining social order. They believe that these values are essential for the well-being and stability of society.
One of the key principles of conservatism is the belief in natural law, the idea that there are certain universal moral principles that are inherent in human nature and that should guide the actions of individuals and governments. Conservatives argue that these principles, such as the inherent dignity of the individual, are timeless and should be protected and preserved.
Another key principle of conservatism is the importance of civil society, the network of voluntary associations and organizations that exist outside of the state. Conservatives believe that civil society is essential for the functioning of a healthy democracy and that it should be protected and encouraged.
Some of the most notable figures in the tradition of conservatism include Edmund Burke, John Locke, and Adam Smith. Burke, a British statesman and political theorist, is often considered the father of modern conservatism. He was a vocal critic of the French Revolution and argued for the importance of tradition and the need to preserve social order.
John Locke, an English philosopher, is also an important figure in the history of conservatism. His ideas about natural rights and limited government influenced the development of modern conservative thought.
Adam Smith, a Scottish economist, is known for his contributions to the field of classical liberalism, which shares many ideas with conservatism. Smith’s ideas about free markets and the importance of individual liberty have had a lasting influence on conservative thought.
In modern times, conservative leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan have had a significant impact on the political landscape. Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is known for her conservative policies and her strong belief in individual responsibility and free markets. Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, is also associated with conservative ideology and is known for his efforts to reduce the size and scope of government.
Relationship to other traditions
Conservatism is often seen as being opposed to progressive or liberal ideologies, which advocate for more government intervention in society and the economy.
Conservatism has a complex relationship with other traditions within political theory. While it shares some ideas with other traditions, such as classical liberalism, conservatism also has significant differences.
One tradition that conservatism shares some ideas with is classical liberalism. Both conservatism and classical liberalism place a strong emphasis on individual liberty and the importance of free markets. However, conservatism differs from classical liberalism in its emphasis on tradition and social order. While classical liberals tend to be more open to change and reform, conservatives are more cautious and believe in the value of established institutions.
Conservatism also has some overlap with libertarianism, another tradition within political theory. Like conservatives, libertarians believe in limited government and individual liberty. However, conservatism tends to place a greater emphasis on social order and traditional values, while libertarianism tends to prioritize individual freedom above all else.
Another tradition that conservatism has a complex relationship with is socialism. Socialism is a political ideology that advocates for the collective ownership and control of the means of production, with the goal of creating a more equitable society. Conservatism, on the other hand, is opposed to the idea of collective ownership and believes in the importance of individual ownership and free markets.
Conservatism is a political tradition that has had a significant influence on political thought and practice. It emphasizes the importance of tradition, social order, and limited government intervention in the affairs of society. While it has evolved over time, conservatism remains a powerful force in modern politics and continues to shape the way we think about government and society. Its relationship with other traditions within political theory is complex, with some overlap in ideas but also significant differences.