6.2.4 Conservative Attitudes

Conservative attitudes include resistance to change and a distrust of government interference; some conservatives want to retreat to the past.

The word ‘conservative’ is derived from the impulse to conserve that which is of value.  Conservatives share a belief that collective experience provides the soundest foundation upon which to proceed, and that if any change is needed it should be made cautiously.  The broad framework of conservatism accommodates several quite different motivations, though, as described in the following sub-sections:

●  Burkean stewardship of the status quo: conserving and enhancing what has been shown to work well (  This traditionalist approach to government is named after Edmund Burke, who described it eloquently.  It aims to provide stability and competence for everyone’s benefit.

●  Conserving wealth and power for the government and its associates (  A ruling elite which wants to defend its own comfortable lifestyle might resist changes that would be to the benefit of the rest of the population.

●  ‘Laissez faire’: reducing the role of government, to let institutions and markets evolve naturally (  People who resent regulation, or people who want to cut government spending and reduce taxes, might argue for this.

●  ‘Neoconservatism’: taking a system that appears to be successful and imposing it elsewhere (  It is a foreign policy originally aimed at increasing global stability, although its effects have been destabilising in practice.

●  Reactionary conservatives reject recent change (  Older people, or people who are uneasy about cultural changes, or those who have suffered economically, might want to ‘turn the clock back’.

●  Retreat to identity: going back to a familiar tradition that feels safe (  People might try to affirm an imagined racial superiority, or nationalism, or fundamentalist religion – and perhaps try to suppress other cultural groups.

These conservative attitudes are not mutually exclusive: they are distinct strands of thought that can co-exist in any individual.  The first two reflect satisfaction with the status quo, whereas the last two seek to reverse changes that are seen as unsatisfactory.  ‘Laissez faire’ and ‘neoconservatism’ are ideologies that people might want to preach to others.

People with different combinations of these views often coexist within the same political party, despite their different interests.   This creates tensions, as is the case in the American Republican Party.  And the British Conservative Party has often been divided over important issues.



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/624.htm.