Conservatism

Gregories, Edmund Burke’s residence, near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, UK

Leading Conservatives – both intellectual and practical politicians – have expressed their understanding of philosophical conservatism in different ways. There is far more overlap than differences. For some basic ideas, we can start with extracts from the entry in the Encyclopaedia of Philosophy by London School of Economics’ Emeritus Professor Kenneth Minogue. Most conservatives would not take issue with these propositions:

Conservatism refers both to men’s attachment to the customs and institutions which have long surrounded them and to the doctrines by which such an attachment is explained and defended…

Conservatism is therefore the preference for what has grown up over a long period of time in contrast to what has been made by deliberate contrivance…

Conservative attitudes which steadily developed in reaction to the rationalist notion that man could scientifically control all human life, finally crystallized when rationalist optimism turned into the revolutionary ideology of the French Revolution. It is the convention to date conservative philosophy from the publication of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1790…

Conservatism became philosophically self-conscious in response to the comprehensive challenge to existing institutions associated with the French Revolution. It did not, of course, lack deep philosophical roots, and it could provide itself with an extensive intellectual genealogy in which such writers as Lord Bolingbroke, Hume, Swift, Richard Hooker, and Aquinas, as well as Plato and Aristotle, deserve mention. Inevitably, conservatism deployed the arsenal of arguments provided by the work of these writers according to the political situation of the moment…

Conservatism most precisely denotes a hostility to radical social change, particularly social change that is instituted by the force of the state and justified by an appeal to abstract rights or to some utopian aim. Conservatives believe that governments are limited by the nature of their instruments to maintaining peace and order: any attempt to go beyond these functions is likely to create a disproportionate amount of misery and disruption…

A more detailed explanation of conservatism is found in the first chapter of Noel O’Sullivan’s book, Conservatism.
Read here: conservatism-noel-osullivan-chpt-1

There are also Russell Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles to be found on the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal website: http://www.kirkcenter.org/index.php/detail/ten-conservative-principles/

Sir Roger Scruton’s books on conservatism are highly recommended:

How to be a Conservative, Roger Scruton, Bloomsbury Continuum, London, 2014

The Meaning of Conservatism, Roger Scruton, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1980

A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism, Roger Scruton, Continuum International Publishing Group, London, 2006

The Roger Scruton Reader, ed. Mark Dooley, Continuum International Publishing, London, 2009