Conservatism is a political and social philosophy promoting traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. The central tenets of conservatism include tradition, human imperfection, organic society, hierarchy and authority and property rights. Conservatives seek to preserve a range of institutions such as monarchy, religion, parliamentary government and property rights with the aim of emphasizing social stability and continuity while the more extreme elements called reactionaries oppose modernism and seek a return to a status quo ante.
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- CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
- Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Dictionary (1906); republished as The Devil's Dictionary (1911)
- [T]he reason why I'm a conservative today is because poverty is what I care about the most and conservative ideas have done more.
- If conservatism is ever to recover it has to achieve two large tasks. First, it has to find a moral purpose large enough to displace the lure of blood-and-soil nationalism. Second, it has to restore standards of professional competence and reassert the importance of experience, integrity and political craftsmanship. When you take away excellence and integrity, loyalty to the great leader is the only currency that remains.
- David Brooks, "The Rise of the Resentniks: And the populist war on excellence" (15 November 2018), The New York Times
- A conservative need not be religious, but a conservative cannot despise religion.
- William F. Buckley, as quoted in "a+CONSE Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism (2008), by Alfred S. Regnery, p. 335
- [C]onservatism is not supposed to be against change or progress... It is supposed to be skeptical of grandiose or reckless schemes which throw out the good in pursuit of the perfect.
- "Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?" (10 May 2000), National Review
- A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.
- All great peoples are conservative; slow to believe in novelties; patient of much error in actualities; deeply and forever certain of the greatness that is in law, in custom once solemnly established, and now long recognized as just and final.
- Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present (1843)
- 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.
- That which is best about conservatism, that which, though it cannot be expressed in detail, inspires reverence in all, is the Inevitable.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conservative (1841)
- From Disraeli to Oakeshott, conservatism has been defined for its distrust of ideology, and a preference for pragmatism, compromise and what has gone before. David Cameron has said he is Conservative because he recognises "the complexities of human nature, and will always be sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world". Admittedly some Republicans are just as hell-bent on ideology as some lefties, but the conservative philosophy is of scepticism, not visions.
- L.S.S., "Keynes and Hayek: Adventures in Wonderland", in The Economist: Free Exchange (31 August 2012)
- 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 July 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.
- Robert Gascoyne-Cecil (Lord Salisbury), c. 1890, as quoted in A Question of Leadership (1991) by Peter Clarke
- Why is it fair game to question conservatives' love or loyalty to children or to their fellow man, but beyond the pale to question liberals' love of country?
- The way you sustain and improve upon a culture is by fostering a sense of gratitude for what is best about it. You celebrate the good in your story while putting the bad in the correct context. Conservatism is gratitude.
- Conservatism, we are told, is out-of-date. This charge is preposterous and we ought to boldly say so. The laws of God, and of nature, have no dateline. These principles are derived from the nature of man, and from the truths that God has revealed about His creation. […] To suggest that the Conservative philosophy is out-of-date is akin to saying that the Golden Rule, or the Ten Commandments or Aristotle’s Politics are out-of-date.
- Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), p. 15
- Continuity is at the heart of conservatism: ecology serves that heart.
- Garrett Hardin, Filters Against Folly (1985)
- Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program; in its paternalistic, nationalistic and power adoring tendencies it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism; and with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place.
- Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. It has, since the French Revolution, for a century and a half played an important role in European politics. Until the rise of socialism, its opposite was liberalism... There is nothing corresponding to this conflict in the history of the United States, because what in Europe was called "liberalism" was here the common tradition on which the American polity had been built: thus the defender of the American tradition was a liberal in the European sense.
- 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 (1947), p. 10
- A conservative is someone who does not think he is morally superior to his grandfather.
- John Howard, The Howard Era
- I do not know which makes a man more conservative — to know nothing but the present, or nothing but the past.
- With reason, conservatives have been called "the party of order." If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom.
- What else do conservatives and libertarians profess in common? The answer to that question is simple: nothing. Nor will they ever. To talk of forming a league or coalition between these two is like advocating a union of ice and fire.
- Russell Kirk, Libertarians: Chirping Sectaries (1981)
- Isn’t conservatism in part about resisting so-called new realities when you sense they might be questionable, even as people lecture you that you’ve got to get with the times?
- [Conservatism:] Our revolutionary message … is that a self-disciplined people can create a political community in which an ordered liberty will promote both economic prosperity and political participation.
- Irving Kristol, essay in American Spectator Magazine (1977)
- Rightist ideas are only truly magnetic if they are absolutely pure; Leftist ideas, on account of their materialistic and heretic essence, never demand perfection. Mediocrity is the death of every Rightist movement, but it is the very air in which Leftism thrives. A totalitarian leader who betrays practically every point of his party program hardly shakes the faith of his fanatical followers, but mediocre monarchs, Popes, and prelates have destroyed the old order.
- Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, The Menace of the Herd (1943), p. 282
- Lord Etheringhame’s opinions were as hereditary as his halls; innovation was moral rebellion; the change of a fashion, a symptom of degeneracy; he would as soon have destroyed his pedigree as his pigtail; and looked on every new patent, whether for a peerage or a pie-dish, as another step to ruin; in short, he held just the reverse of the poet’s opinion — with him, not whatever is, but whatever had been, was right.
- 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.
- Conservatism is about protecting the fundamental rights: That we are all equal, regardless of the color of our skin, the faith that we practice or our gender.
- Evan McMullin, as quoted in "Evan McMullin: Conservatives must now abandon the Republican Party" (9 November 2016), by Josh Rogin, The Washington Post
- 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 distinction between conservatism and radical conservatism is in part a matter of belief and temperament, in part a matter of experience. In interwar Europe, many erstwhile radical conservatives supported fascist regimes, whether out of conviction or circumstance, before frequently becoming disillusioned with the radical regimes they had supported. After the defeat of the Axis powers some of the most acute conservative analysis and critique stemmed from those who had been radical conservatives but now saw no plausible alternative to the liberal democratic welfare state.
- 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.
- Michael Oakeshott, On Being Conservative (1962)
- 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 you do […] when you are not blinded by ideology, and you see the world and all its dramatic characters clearly? Well, you do not hope for the infinite perfectibility of humanity and aim your system at some unattainable utopia. You try to design a system that sinners such as you cannot damage too badly—too permanently—even when they are half blind and resentful. To the degree that I am conservative in orientation, I believe in the wisdom of that vision.
- 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."
- 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 (16 October 2009)
- Conservatism is a defense of established hierarchies, but it is also fearful of those established hierarchies. It sees in their assuredness of power the source of corruption, decadence and decline. Ruling regimes require some kind of irritant, a grain of sand in the oyster, to reactivate their latent powers, to exercise their atrophied muscles, to make their pearls.
- Corey Robin, in interview with Henry Farrell, "Trump is a typical conservative. That says a lot about the conservative tradition." (1 February 2018)
- 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)
- Conservatism is itself a modernism, and in this lies the secret of its success.
- The conservative response to modernity is to embrace it, but to embrace it critically, in full consciousness that human achievements are rare and precarious, that we have no God-given right to destroy our inheritance, but must always patiently submit to the voice of order, and set an example of orderly living.
- Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.
- Roger Scruton, How to Be a Conservative (2014)
- The kind of Conservatism which he Keith Joseph and I...favoured would be best described as "liberal", in the old-fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of Mr. Gladstone not of the latter-day collectivists.
- 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.
- Frank Arthur Vanderlip, From Farm Boy to Financier (1935), Ch. 25, p. 257
- 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 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.
- Simone Weil, in "The Power of Words" (1937)
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