6.2.4 Conservatism

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 word ‘conservative’ is derived from the impulse to conserve that which is of value.  This broad framework accommodates several quite different motivations, as described in the following sub-sections:

  • Burkean stewardship for the benefit of the population: building on what has been shown to work well (
  • Resistance to change, preserving privilege (
  • Reducing the role of government: letting institutions and markets evolve naturally with a ‘laissez faire’ policy (
  • ‘Neoconservatism’: taking a system that appears to be successful and imposing it elsewhere (
  • Reactionary conservatism: a retreat to the past (
  • Reaffirmation of cultural identity (, retreating to a familiar tradition that feels safe and perhaps trying to suppress other cultural groups.

These are not mutually exclusive categories; they are recognisable themes, of which more than one might constitute an individual’s attitudes.  The first two of these positions are taken up by people who are satisfied with the status quo and who want government to protect it; the next two are based on conservative philosophies, offering defined formulae for using the status quo as a template for future policy; the last two are defensive positions, taken by people seeking to escape from an unsatisfactory present situation to adopt principles that they understand from the past.

These views are adopted for different reasons, and they therefore have different policy implications.  People holding these opinions can all coexist within the same party, as is the case with the American Republican Party and the British Conservative and Unionist Party, but the differences give rise to party tensions.



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