Last modified on 2 November 2014, at 02:34

Conservatism

It is to the property of the citizen, and not to the demands of the creditor of the state, that the first and original faith of civil society is pledged. ~ Edmund Burke

Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and opposes rapid change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were." The term derives from conserve; from Latin conservare, to keep, guard, observe. To a conservative, the goal of change is less important than the insistence that change be effected with a respect for the rule of law and traditions of society; since the 1940s the term has been closely associated with preservation and promotion of capitalism and opposition to liberalism, socialism and communism.

QuotesEdit

I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad. ~ Benjamin Disraeli
I never meant to say that the conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. ~ John Stuart Mill
The conservative is a person who considers very closely every chance, even the longest, of "throwing out the baby with the bath-water," as the German proverb puts it, and who determines his conduct accordingly. ~ Albert Jay Nock
  • It is to the property of the citizen, and not to the demands of the creditor of the state, that the first and original faith of civil society is pledged. The claim of the citizen is prior in time, paramount in title, superior in equity. The fortunes of individuals, whether possessed by acquisition or by descent or in virtue of a participation in the goods of some community, were no part of the creditor's security, expressed or implied... the public, whether represented by a monarch or by a senate, can pledge nothing but the public estate; and it can have no public estate except in what it derives from a just and proportioned imposition upon the citizens at large.
  • A Radical generally meant a man who thought he could somehow pull up the root without affecting the flower. A Conservative generally meant a man who wanted to conserve everything except his own reason for conserving anything.
    • G.K. Chesterton, in "The Evolution of Words and Meanings" in The Illustrated London News (3 July 1920).
  • I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad. I seek to preserve property and to respect order, and I equally decry the appeal to the passions of the many or the prejudices of the few.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, in a speech at High Wycombe, England (27 November 1832); published in Selected Speeches of the Late Right Honourable the Earl of Beaconsfield, ed. T. E. Kebbel (1882), volume 1, p. 8.
  • Is not every man sometimes a radical in politics? Men are conservatives when they are least vigorous, or when they are most luxurious. They are conservatives after dinner, or before taking their rest; when they are sick, or aged. In the morning, or when their intellect or their conscience has been aroused; when they hear music, or when they read poetry, they are radicals.
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, "New England Reformers", lecture read before the Church of the Disciples, Amory Hall, Boston, Massachusetts (March 3, 1844); published in Essays: Second Series (vol. 3 of The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson; 1903), p. 272.
  • The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
    • John Kenneth Galbraith, "Stop the Madness," interview with Rupert Cornwell, Toronto Globe and Mail (6 Jul 2002).
  • The perils of change are so great, the promise of the most hopeful theories is so often deceptive, that it is frequently the wiser part to uphold the existing state of things, if it can be done, even though, in point of argument, it should be utterly indefensible.
  • There's a tremendous irony in the way conservatives have adopted their position on evolution. After all, the right has been complaining about relativism — the idea that there is no absolute truth — for years. Now, challenging the conclusions of science in the name of cultural tolerance, conservatives have created their own version of radical deconstructionism. Aping the French academicians they once excoriated, they're undermining the very idea of empirical reality, dismissing inconvenient facts as the product of an oppressive ideology.
    • Michelle Goldberg in Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (2006) edited by W. W. Norton, p. 102.
  • Conservatives do not believe that political struggle is the most important thing in life... The simplest among them prefer fox-hunting — the wisest religion.
    • Quintin Hogg, The Case for Conservatism (Penguin, 1947), p. 10.
  • I do not know which makes a man more conservative — to know nothing but the present, or nothing but the past.
  • You say you are conservative — eminently conservative — while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live;" while you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new. True, you disagree among yourselves as to what that substitute shall be. You are divided on new propositions and plans, but you are unanimous in rejecting and denouncing the old policy of the fathers.
  • I never meant to say that the conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.
    • John Stuart Mill, in a letter to the Conservative MP, John Pakington (March 1866); this seems to have become paraphrased as "Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives." which was a variant published in Quotations for Our Time (1978), edited by Laurence J. Peter.
  • The differentiation of conservatism rests on the estimate of necessity in any given case. Thus conservatism is purely an ad hoc affair; its findings vary with conditions, and are good for this day and train only. Conservatism is not a body of opinion, it has no set platform or creed, and hence, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a hundred-per-cent conservative group or party … Nor is conservatism an attitude of sentiment. Dickens's fine old unintelligent characters who "kept up the barrier, sir, against modern innovations" were not conservatives. They were sentimental obstructionists, probably also obscurantists, but not conservatives.
    Nor yet is conservatism the antithesis of radicalism; the antithesis of radical is superficial. Falkland was a great radical; he was never for a moment caught by the superficial aspect of things. A person may be as radical as you please, and still may make an extremely conservative estimate of the force of necessity exhibited by a given set of conditions.
    A radical, for example, may think we should get on a great deal better if we had an entirely different system of government, and yet, at this time and under conditions now existing, he may take a strongly conservative view of the necessity for pitching out our system, neck and crop, and replacing it with another. He may think our fiscal system is iniquitous in theory and monstrous in practice, and be ever so sure he could propose a better one, but if on consideration of all the circumstances he finds that it is not necessary to change that system, he is capable of maintaining stoutly that it is necessary not to change it. The conservative is a person who considers very closely every chance, even the longest, of "throwing out the baby with the bath-water," as the German proverb puts it, and who determines his conduct accordingly.
    • Albert Jay Nock, in 'A Little Conserva-tive' in The Atlantic Monthly (October 1936).
  • To be conservative, then, is 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. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one's own fortune, to live at the level of one's own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one's circumstances.
  • Conservative ideology...may be defined as a philosophy of imperfection, committed to...the defence of a limited style of politics.
    • Noël O'Sullivan, Conservatism (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1976), pp. 11-12.
  • The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.
    • George Orwell, in a letter to Malcolm Muggeridge (4 December 1948), published in Malcolm Muggeridge : A Life (1980) by Ian Hunter.
  • What do we call conservative, and what do we call liberal, in daily life? A conservative explains behavior spiritually, and personalizes responsibility. In Aristotelian terms, the principle of motion is within us. A liberal, by contrast, explains behavior mechanically, and externalizes responsibility: the principle of motion is outside us. Thus, in the typical policy debate, a liberal makes excuses for the human agent, and a conservative places blame. The spark of the liberal argument — He didn’t have the same opportunities you did — meets the conservative conceptual firewall: Lots of people start poor, but still find ways to make it.
  • Ever since 1953, when Russell Kirk produced its intellectual coat of arms, conservatism has been "what Edmund Burke wrote." This is the equivalent of Arthur Danto’s institutional theory of art — art is whatever the art world says it is. But it’s also a cop-out. Instead of analyzing conservatism in an Aristotelian way, instead of asking how we use the term in real life, we just describe Burke. In the process, don’t we risk fleeing into what Tanenhaus calls an "alternative universe"? If conservatives are "glaringly disconnected from the realities now besetting America," as Tanenhaus says, why is the solution to be more like a man who wore a powdered wig? Liberals have problems of their own, but, to their credit, they don’t sit around debating whether Hillary Clinton or John Edwards is the "real Rousseauian."
    • Mark Riebling, "Conservatism Turned Upside Down: Sam Tanenhaus' Critique of Conservative Reason," City Journal (October 16, 2009). Full essay online
  • If movement conservatism is less about hating the state than about fighting Godless modernism, this might explain why conservatives have always found actual or cultural wars to fight, but have never got around to shrinking or controlling the growth of government (though centrists like Eisenhower and Clinton did).
    • Mark Riebling, "Conservatism Turned Upside Down: Sam Tanenhaus' Critique of Conservative Reason," City Journal (October 16, 2009). Full essay online
  • Conservative: One who admires radicals a century after they're dead.
    • Leo Rosten, as quoted in Ralph Louis Woods, The Modern Handbook of Humor (1967).
  • The conservative in financial circles I have often described as a man who thinks nothing new ought ever to be adopted for the first time.
  • The office of the leisure class in social evolution is to retard the movement and to conserve what is obsolescent. This proposition is by no means novel; it has long been one of the commonplaces of popular opinion.
  • Conservatism, being an upper-class characteristic, is decorous; and conversely, innovation, being a lower-class phenomenon, is vulgar. ...Innovation is bad form.
    • Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) Ch.8, p. 200
  • The fact that the usages, actions, and views of the well-to-do leisure class acquire the character of a prescriptive canon of conduct for the rest of society, gives added weight and reach to the conservative influence of that class. It makes it incumbent upon all reputable people to follow their lead.
    • Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) Ch.8, p. 200
  • The institution of a leisure class acts to make the lower classes conservative by withdrawing from them as much as it may of the means of sustenance, and so reducing their consumption, and consequently their available energy, to such a point as to make them incapable of the effort required for the learning and adoption of new habits of thought.
  • The struggle between the opponents and defenders of capitalism is a struggle between innovators who do not know what innovation to make and conservatives who do not know what to conserve.
  • Like Aristotle, conservatives generally accept the world as it is; they distrust the politics of abstract reason – that is, reason divorced from experience.

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