Conservatism

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Conservatism is a political philosophy that generally favors free markets, traditional values and strong foreign defense. The term derives from to conserve; from Latin conservāre, "to keep, guard, observe". Since different cultures have different established values, conservatives in different cultures have different goals. Some conservatives seek to preserve the status quo, while others seek to return to the values of an earlier time, the status quo ante.

Samuel Francis defined authentic conservatism as “the survival and enhancement of a particular people and its institutionalized cultural expressions.”<ref>www.samfrancis.net</ref> Roger Scruton calls it “maintenance of the social ecology” and “the politics of delay, the purpose of which is to maintain in being, for as long as possible, the life and health of a social organism.”<ref>profam.org</ref>

Contents

[edit] Development of thought

Conservatism has not produced, nor does it tend to produce systematic treatises like Hobbes’ Leviathan or Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. Consequently, what it means to be a conservative today is frequently the subject of debate and a topic muddied by association with various (and often opposing) ideologies or political parties. Scholar R.J. White once put it this way:
"To put conservatism in a bottle with a label is like trying to liquefy the atmosphere … The difficulty arises from the nature of the thing. For conservatism is less a political doctrine than a habit of mind, a mode of feeling, a way of living."<ref>As part of introduction to The Conservative Tradition, ed. R.J. White (London: Nicholas Kaye, 1950)</ref>

Although political thought, from its beginnings, contains many strains that can be retrospectively labeled conservative, it was not until the Age of Reason, and in particular the reaction to events surrounding the French Revolution of 1789, that conservatism began to rise as a distinct attitude or train of thought. Many suggest an earlier rise of a conservative disposition, in the wake of the Reformation, specifically in the works of influential Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker – emphasizing moderation in the political balancing of interests towards the goals of social harmony and common good. But it was not until Edmund Burke’s polemic - Reflections on the Revolution in France - that conservatism gained its most influential statement of views.

Image:Edmund Burke.jpg
Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke, who argued so forcefully against the French Revolution, also sympathised with some of the aims of the American Revolution. This classical conservative tradition often insists that conservatism has no ideology, in the sense of a utopian programme, with some form of master plan. Burke developed his ideas in reaction to the 'enlightened' idea of a society guided by abstract reason. Although he did not use the term, he anticipated the critique of modernism, a term first used at the end of the 19th century by the Dutch religious conservative Abraham Kuyper. Burke was troubled by the Enlightenment, and argued instead for the value of tradition.

Some men, argued Burke, have less reason than others, and thus some men will make worse governments than others if they rely upon reason. To Burke, the proper formulation of government came not from abstractions such as "Reason," but from time-honoured development of the state and of other important societal institutions such as the family and the Church.

"We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and ages. Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek, and they seldom fail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice, and to leave nothing but naked reason; because prejudice, with its reason, has a motive to give action to that reason, and an affection which will give it permanence."

Burke argued that tradition is a much sounder foundation than pure abstractions (such as "reason"). Tradition draws on the wisdom of many generations and the tests of time, while "reason" may be a mask for the preferences of one man, and at best represents only the untested wisdom of one generation. Any existing value or institution has undergone the correcting influence of past experience and ought to be respected.

However, conservatives do not reject change. As Burke wrote, "A state without the means of change is without the means of its conservation." But they insist that further change be organic, rather than revolutionary. An attempt to modify the complex web of human interactions that form human society, for the sake of some doctrine or theory, runs the risk of running afoul of the iron law of unintended consequences. Burke advocates vigilance against the possibility of moral hazards. For conservatives, human society is something rooted and organic; to try to prune and shape it according to the plans of an ideologue is to invite unforeseen disaster.

Conservatives strongly support the right of property. Carl B. Cone, in Burke and the Nature of Politics,<ref> Carl B. Cone, Burke and the Nature of Politics, University of Kentucky Press, 1957 ASIN B0006AV4NG </ref> pointed out that this view, expressed as philosophy, also served the interests of the people involved. "As Burke had declared…this law ... encroached upon property rights... . To the eighteenth century Whig, nothing was more sacred than the rights of property, ... the protest could not be entirely frank, and it masked personal interests behind lofty principles. These principles were not hypocritically pronounced, but they did not reveal the financial interests of Rockingham, Burke, and other persons who opposed the East India legislation as members of parliament, as holders of East India stock..."

Benjamin Disraeli, himself a member of the Conservative Party in England, wrote in 1845, "A conservative government is an organized hypocrisy." The comment was provoked when the Conservative Party split into two groups, based on whether or not they would personally profit from the repeal of the corn laws.<ref>Speech on Agricultural Interests, March 17, 1845</ref>

At the end of the Napoleonic period, the Congress of Vienna marked the beginning of a conservative reaction in Europe to contain the liberal and nationalist forces unleashed by the French revolution. Historians Will and Ariel Durant describe the conservative philosophy of the time as "defending the necessity of religion, the wisdom of tradition, the authority of the family, the advantages of legitimate monarchy, and the constant need to maintain political, moral, and economic dikes against the ever-swelling sea of popular ignorance, cupidity, violence, barbarism, and fertility."<ref> Will and Ariel Durant, "The Age of Napoleon", Simon and Schuster (1975) ISBN 0-671-21988-X </ref> Vicomte Louis Gabriel Ambroise de Bonald, set forth the principles of French conservatism in Théorie du pruvoir politique et religieux (1796): "absolute monarchy, hereditary aristocracy, patriarchal authority in the family, and the moral and religious sovereignty of the popes over all the kings of Christendom."<ref> Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Napoleon, Simon and Schuster, 1975, ISBN 0-671-21988-X </ref> Along with Louis de Bonald, Joseph de Maistre was the most influential spokesperson for counter-revolutionary and authoritarian conservatism, with the emphasis on monarchy as a guarantee of order in society. The legitimist movement was the political incarnation of this thought.

[edit] Schools of Conservatism

[edit] Cultural Conservatism

Main article: Cultural conservatism

Cultural Conservatism is a philosophy that supports preservation of the heritage of a nation or culture. The culture in question may be as large as Western culture or Chinese civilization or as small as that of Tibet. Cultural conservatives try to adapt norms handed down from the past. The norms may be romantic, like the anti-metric movement that demands the retention of avoirdupois weights and measures in Britain and opposes their replacement with the metric system. They may be institutional: in the West this has included chivalry and feudalism, as well as capitalism, laicité and the rule of law. In the East, examples are the state examination system in China and the widespread cultural tolerance in India.

According to the subset called social conservatives, the norms may also be moral. For example, in some cultures practices such as homosexuality or abortion are thought to be wrong. In other cultures women who expose their faces or limbs in public are considered immoral, and conservatives in those cultures often support laws to prohibit such practices. Other conservatives take a more positive approach, supporting good samaritan laws, or laws requiring public charity, if their culture considers these acts moral.

Cultural conservatives often argue that old institutions have adapted to a particular place or culture and therefore ought to persevere. Depending on how universalizing (or skeptical) they are, cultural conservatives may or may not accept cultures that differ from their own. Many conservatives believe in a universal morality, but others allow that moral codes may differ from nation to nation, and only try to support their moral code within their own culture. That is, a cultural conservative may doubt whether the broad ideals of French communities would be equally appropriate in Germany.

[edit] Religious Conservatism

Religious conservatives seek to preserve the teachings of some particular religion, sometimes by proclaiming the value of those teachings, at other times seeking to have those teachings given the force of law. Religious conservatism may support, or be supported by, secular customs. In other places or at other times, religious conservatism may find itself at odds with the culture in which the believers reside. In some cultures, there is conflict between two or more different groups of religious conservatives, both strongly asserting that their view is correct, and opposing views are wrong.

Religious conservatism is unlike other forms of conservatism, because of the many different forms it can take. Many religious conservatives are resistant to all change, because they see their beliefs as coming from an all knowing and unchanging God. St. Paul illustrates the importance of tradition in First Corinthians: "I have received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you." The Latin word for delivered here is traditio.

Conservative governments influenced by religious conservatives may promote broad campaigns for a return to traditional values. Modern examples include the Back to Basics campaign of British Prime Minister, John Major. In the European Union, a conservative campaign sought to constitutionally specify certain conservative values in the proposed European Constitution. Most prominently, Pope John Paul II lobbied for inclusion of a reference to God, which was narrowly defeated.

Radical movements within established religious traditions illustrate the paradoxical method by which branches of religious conservatism can emerge that, rather than trying to preserve an existing social order, seek to overthrow that order in the name of a puritanical ideal, and enforce adoption of a perceived 'pristine' form of the religion, often based on a very strict reading of a holy text. Such radical or revolutionary movements may be a reaction against perceived abuses, corruption, or heresy within the existing tradition. One example of such a movement was the Protestant Reformation.

In Islam, the Salafist movement is often politically and socially radical, and is violently repressed by governments and distrusted by the majority of mainstream Muslims for that reason. Salafism seeks to impose, by force if necessary, its vision of a model Islamic society such as existed at the time of Muhammad's passing from this world and for a short time thereafter. It rejects the later developments of Islamic societies, and can therefore be classified as a radical religious conservatism.

Similar phenomena have arisen in practically all the world's religions, in many cases triggered by the violent cultural collision between the traditional society in question and the modern Western society that has developed throughout the world over the past 500 years. Much of what is labelled as radical religious conservatism in the modern world is in fact an indigenous fusion of traditional religious ideals with modern, European revolutionary philosophy, sometimes Marxist in nature.

[edit] Fiscal conservatism

Fiscal conservatism is the economic philosophy of prudence in government spending and debt. Edmund Burke, in his 'Reflections on the Revolution in France', articulated its principles:

...[I]t 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...[T]he 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.

In other words, a government does not have the right to run up large debts and then throw the burden on the taxpayer; the taxpayers' right not to be taxed oppressively takes precedence even over paying back debts a government may have imprudently undertaken.

[edit] Ideological interaction and influence

Conservative patriotism is most famously expressed in the words of American naval hero Stephen Decatur, Jr. who said, "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!" The nation or, at an earlier time, the city state, is seen as a major force safeguarding traditional values and preserving the very life and freedom of its citizens.

In response to terrorism, both prime minister Tony Blair and previous opposition leader Michael Howard have suggested that British values and the British way of life must be enforced in Britain.<ref> http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4659933.stm </ref><ref> http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=1721092005 </ref>

Value conservatives in Europe appeal to 'national values'. Burkean conservatives value them for their own sake, because they are the result of long experience, but the patriotic impulse also has a strong emotional appeal, as illustrated by the famous Sir Walter Scott quotation, "Breathes there a man, with soul so dead, who never to himself has said, this is my own, my native land!"

Most patriots appeal to national symbolism - the national flag, national historical icons, founders and emblems, the works of national poets and authors, or the representation of the nation by its artists. Conservatives often express admiration of the patriotic values of duty, and sacrifice.

[edit] Conservatism and economics

The phrases "economic liberal" and "economic conservative" seem to be synonymous, encompassing modern neoliberalism, as well as classical liberalism in the tradition of Adam Smith.<ref> http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=1689 </ref>

Outside the United States, "liberal" often refers only to free-market policies. For example, in Europe "liberal-conservative" is an accepted term. Differences in meaning and usage of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" have contributed to a great deal of confusion, and often the words seem to be used with no more meaning than "us" and "them". Conservatives and classical liberals are "allied against the common enemy, socialism," but classical liberals are "more suspicious than conservatives of all but the most minimal government."<ref>Quinton, Anthony. Conservativism, A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, editors Goodin, Robert E. and Pettit, Philip. Blackwell Publishing, 1995, p. 246.</ref>

[edit] Regional politics

Further information: right-wing and political spectrum

In western democracies, 'conservative' and 'right-wing' are often used interchangeably, as near-synonyms. That is not always accurate, but it has more than incidental validity. Certainly the opposition is in both cases the same: the political left. (Although left-wing groups and individuals may have conservative social and cultural attitudes, they are not generally accepted, by self-identified conservatives, as part of the same movement). On economic policy and the economic system, conservatives and the right generally support the free market, although less so in Europe than in other places. Attitudes on some ethical and bio-ethical issues — such as opposition to abortion — are described as either 'right-wing' or 'conservative'.

Burkean conservatives favour incremental over radical change, even from the right. Some conservatives distrust the xenophobic and even racist sentiments prominent on the political right, just as some socialists distrust the communistic sentiments prominent on the political left. Protectionism and anti-immigration policies may conflict with free-market conservatives' support for deregulation and free trade. Some conservatives oppose military interventionism, inspired by early British conservative thinkers, such as David Hume and Edmund Burke. Burke saw imperialism as interfering with the traditions and organic make-up of the colonised societies.

But there are also many examples of theocratic religious conservatives, conservative nationalists, jingoist conservative imperialists, and conservative racists — and of 'respectable' conservatives allied with them. The Conservative Party in Britain was a staunch defender of the British Empire.

The overlap between 'respectable' conservatives and the extreme right is determined by the degree of political taboo, rather than inherent ideological incompatibility. In European parliamentary systems, conservatives currently ally with centrist or even leftist groups, rather than with the xenophobic-populist right, although critics have contended that the conservatives are taking in far-right ideas. For example, in December 2005, Le Canard Enchaîné claimed that Nicolas Sarkozy had implemented almost all of the far-right Front National (FN) measures proposed in its election program. All mainstream parties in Belgium cooperated to exclude the Flemish-separatist and xenophobic Vlaams Belang, although some politicians wish to break this 'cordon sanitaire'. And mainstream parties in France sometimes support each others' candidates in run-off elections, to exclude the Front National party. However, in March 1977, and then March 1983, FN was present on RPR-UDF lists at municipal elections; in 1988, RPR and UDF right-wing conservative parties allied with FN in the Bouches-du-Rhône and Var regions. In March 1989, they had common lists in at least 28 cities of more than 9 000 inhabitants. Those alliances were condemned in 1991, but a dozen conservative deputies gained FN's support in 1997.

[edit] North America

Main articles: American conservatism and Canadian conservatism

[edit] British Conservatism

Edmund Burke is often considered the father of conservatism in Anglo-American circles. In the United Kingdom, Burkean conservatism continues on, but its influence tended to leave its indelible mark on Anglo-American conservatism more so than British conservatism. There is no organisational continuity amongst Burkean conservatives which clearly connect them to contemporary conservatives in Britain. An Old Whig, Burke certainly was not the 'founder of the Conservative Party'.

The old established form of English and, after the Act of Union, British conservatism, was the Tory Party. It reflected the attitudes of a rural land owning class, and championed the institutions of the monarchy, the Anglican Church, the family, and property as the best defence of the social order. In the early stages of the industrial revolution, it seemed to be totally opposed to a process that seemed to undermine some of these bulwarks. The new industrial elite were seen by many as enemies to the social order.

Sir Robert Peel was able to reconcile the new industrial class to the Tory landed class by persuading the latter to accept the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. He created a new political group that sought to preserve the old status quo while accepting the basics of laissez-faire and free trade. The new coalition of traditional landowners and sympathetic industrialists constituted the new Conservative Party.

Benjamin Disraeli gave the new party a political ideology. As a young man, he was influenced by the romantic movement and the then fashionable medievalism, and developed a devastating critique of industrialism. In his novels he outlined an England divided into two nations, each living in perfect ignorance of each other. He forsaw, like Karl Marx, the phenomenon of an alienated industrial proletariat.

His solution involved a return to an idealised view of a corporate or organic society, in which everyone had duties and responsibilities towards other people or groups. This "one nation" conservatism is still a very important tradition in British politics. It has animated a great deal of social reform undertaken by successive Conservative governments.

Although nominally a Conservative, Disraeli was sympathetic to some of the demands of the Chartists and argued for an alliance between the landed aristocracy and the working class against the increasing power of the middle class, helping to found the Young England group in 1842 to promote the view that the rich should use their power to protect the poor from exploitation by the middle class. The conversion of the Conservative Party into a modern mass organisation was accelerated by the concept of "tory Democracy" attributed to Lord Randolph Churchill.

A Liberal-Conservative coalition during World War I coupled with the ascent of the Labour Party, hastened the collapse of the Liberals in the 1920s. After World War II, the Conservative Party made concessions to the socialist policies of the Left. This compromise was a pragmatic measure to regain power, but also the result of the early successes of central planning and state-ownership forming a cross-party consensus. This was known as 'Butskellism', after the almost identical Keynesian policies of Rab Butler on behalf of the Conservatives, and Hugh Gaitskell for Labour.

However, in the 1980s, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, and the influence of Sir Keith Joseph, the party returned to classical liberal economic ideas, and privatisation of many state enterprises was ordained. For more detail, see History of the Conservative Party.

The Thatcher legacy is mixed. Some commentators have suggested that she destroyed the traditional party consensus and philosophy, and, in so doing, left a situation in which the public does not really know what the party stands for any more. The Conservative Party is now busy trying to re-invent itself.

[edit] Europe

In other parts of Europe, mainstream conservatism is often represented by the Christian Democratic parties. They form the bulk of the European Peoples Party faction in the European Parliament. The origin of these parties is usually in Catholic parties of the late 19th and early 20th century, and Catholic social teaching was their original inspiration. Over the years, conservatism gradually became their main ideological inspiration, and they generally became less Catholic. The German CDU, its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) are Protestant-Catholic parties.

In the Nordic countries, conservatism has been represented in liberal conservative parties like the Moderate Party in Sweden and the Conservative People's Party in Denmark. Domestically, these parties generally support market-oriented policies, and usually gain support from the business community and white-collar professionals. Internationally they generally support the European Union and a strong defense. Their views on social issues tend to be more liberal than, for example, the U.S. Republican Party. Social conservatism in the Nordic countries are often found in their Christian Democratic parties. In several Nordic countries, right-wing populist parties have gained some support since the 1970s. Their policies have often been focused on tax cuts, reduced immigration, and tougher law and order policies.

Generally, one could claim that European conservatives tend to be more moderate on many social and economic issues, than American conservatives. They tend to be quite friendly to the aims of the welfare state, although concerned about a healthy business environment. However, some groups have been more supportive of a stricter libertarian or laissez-faire agenda, especially under influence from Thatcherism. European conservative groups often see themselves as guardians of prudence, moderation, history and tried experience, as opposed to radicalism and social experiments. Approval of high culture and established political institutions like the monarchy is often found in European conservatism. Mainstream conservative groups are often staunch supporters of the European Union. However, one might also find elements of nationalism in many countries.

[edit] China

Chinese conservatism is based on the teachings of Kong Fuzi (Confucius). Confucius, who lived in a time of chaos and warring kingdoms, wrote extensively about the importance of the family, of social stability, and of obedience to just authority. His ideas continue to permeate Chinese society. Traditional Chinese conservatism imbued with Confucian thought have been resurgent in recent years, despite more than a half-century of authoritarian Marxist-Leninist rule.

After Mao's death in 1976, three factions wrestled to succeed him: the hardline Maoists, who wanted to continue the revolutionary mobilization; restorationists, who advocated a return to the Soviet model of communism; and reformers, led by Deng Xiaoping, who hoped to reduce the role of ideology in government and overhaul the Chinese economy.

Traditional Chinese values have surged, rather assertively, in spite of the long-standing revolutionary communist regime. Today, the Communist Party of China is run by technocrats, who seek stability and economic progress, while suppressing free speech and religion. The Party is seen by some as the recipient of the Mandate of Heaven, a traditional Chinese idea. The Communist Party is taming itself and no longer consistently advocates Marxist revolutionary theory, adhering instead to a certain ideological flexibility consistent with the dictum of Deng Xiaoping, that is seek truth from facts.

Love of country and national pride has been resurgent as well as traditionalism. Chinese nationalism tends to speak highly of a centralized, powerful Chinese state. The government attempts to win and maintain the loyalty its citizens and of recently departed overseas Chinese. Recent bestseller China Can Say No expresses a sentiment in favor of a uniquely Chinese path that, tellingly, does not have to involve American norms, such as individualism and Western liberalism. Moreover, the tide may still be coming in for Chinese nationalism, as the next generation of Chinese leaders will have grown up in an environment imbued with nationalism.

Since the 1990s, there has been a neoconservative movement in China (not connected with the US neoconservative movement).

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

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