Conservatism (from French conservatisme and from the Latin conservare – to protect, preserve) is one of the leading directions of political philosophy, which is expressed in a historically particular political ideology. Elements of conservatism can be found in Aristotle. Since then, Western thought has not stopped trying to formulate the principles of conservatism. The ideologists of conservatism include E. Burke and M. Oakeshott (1901-90).

Burke, being a member of the Lower House of the British Parliament from the Whig Party, formulated the principles of conservatism in his works devoted to concrete problems of British, European and world politics of 18 century. An event that allowed him to present the creed of conservatism with maximum clarity was the French Revolution of 1789. For Burke, it appeared as the maximum of evil that people capable of inflicting on themselves without a proper understanding of their nature and the laws of the human community. The basic principles of this knowledge can be summarized as follows:

  1. man is a religious being, and religion forms the basis of civil society;
  2. society is a product of historical development, and its institutions embody the wisdom of their ancestors;
  3. people as the essence of instinct, feeling and reason better manage the experience, habit and prejudices, rather than abstract theories;
  4. Evil is contained in human nature itself, and not in public institutions; the community is a form of human protection from itself and therefore it must be valued above the individual, and his rights are only the consequence of duties;
  5. people are by nature unequal, and therefore in society are inevitable differences, hierarchy and the right of some to rule over others;
  6. the existing social order must be protected since usually attempts to eliminate evil lead to more evil, which does not mean denying the necessity of changes (Burke E. Reflections on the Revolution in France).

It should be noted that any attempt to abstract these principles from the context of thought and turn them into a kind of “symbol of faith” or a list of binding beliefs, provokes a protest among representatives of conservative philosophy. Oakeshott in one of his essays insisted that “the predisposition to be a conservative in politics does not at all oblige us to adhere to these beliefs as true, nor even to assume that they are true” (Oakeshott M. On Being Conservative .- Kirk R The Portable Conservative Reader, NY, 1982, p. 585). The traditional reluctance of conservatives to reduce their worldview to a universal theory, to define it more as a “predisposition”, but in no case as a rational doctrine leads to the fact that conservatism is deprived of its dynamics. As S. Huntington stated: “The discoveries of conservatism are simply parallel ideological reactions to similar social situations. The content of conservatism is essentially static. Its manifestations are historically isolated and discrete. Thus, paradoxically, conservatism, being a defender of tradition, exists without tradition. Conservatism is this call to history, without history itself “(Huntington S. Conservatism as an Ideology.,” The American Political Science Review “, 1957, #51, p. 469).

This understanding of conservatism allows us to view this political ideology functionally – as a response to the challenges facing a particular society with its specific economic, political and cultural problems. There is no need either to reduce it to merely an aristocratic reaction to the French Revolution of 1789, or to turn it into a historic “eternal” philosophy. Conservatism as an ideology that does not have the idea of a perfect social system (there is no “conservative utopia”) is defined by Huntington as “institutional”, i.e. acting in defense of available social institutions, when they are under threat. In contrast to the “ideological” ideologies (liberalism and socialism), having their social ideal (Ibid., P. 458). From this it follows that it is preferable to build a typology on the basis of historical originality, as N. O’Sullivan suggested, who proposed to distinguish between “reactionary”, “revolutionary” and “moderate” conservatism, represented respectively by France, Germany and Great Britain / USA (see: O’Sullivan N. Conservatism – Eatwell R., Wright A. (eds., Contemporary Political Ideologies L., 1993, p. 52-53).

It is a mistake to bury conservatism only because he temporarily transfers his functions to liberalism as an ideological ideology. So did J. Weiss, who concluded his work with the conclusion that after 1945 “the history of European conservatism has ended” (Weiss J. Conservatism in Europe 1770-1945, Traditionalism, Reaction and Counter-Revolution, L., 1977, p. 173) . There is a different opinion. For example, J. Gray, recognizing the need today “to reject all those forms of conservatism in which fundamentalist liberalism has found a political abode” (Gray J. Enlightenments’s Wake., Politics and Culture, 1997). , p. 119), foresees the transfer – to preserve the “liberal civilization” in the UK – the political function of conservatism to the left forces. They, Gray hopes, will manage to save and nurture conservative “truth grains,” to which now only three principles should be attributed:

  1. a person is not a representative of universal humanity, but a product of a specific culture;
  2. progress and continuous improvement are possible but meaningless;
  3. cultural forms are primary concerning economic and political institutions.
Rate your experience with this philosophy study!

Discuss this Study