Conservatism as a term with political connotation was first used in the United States of America to imply a pessimistic state of affairs.
The group of people who were opposed to the French Revolution was also deemed to be conservatives. In the United Kingdom “Conservatives” came to be known as “Tory” which became one of the two political parties in the UK.
Conservatism stems from a desire to conserve other existing orders and resist any changes to the same.
According to Burke the destruction of the ancient regime was one of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind.
The idea of conservatism was placed defensively against the changing social order of the 19th century.
The authoritarian conservatism which persisted in Europe in the early twentieth century especially in Germany and Italy only transformed post World War II, when conservative political groups finally accepted the ideas of political democracy and social reforms.
Difficult to give an accurate definition and must be careful to associate it too much with the Conservatives of today, but there are a number of personal traits that a conservative is likely to have:
Conservatives tend to want less control over the individual, doesn’t like fixed political doctrines.
Like the status quo to be maintained rather than any radical change.
Want the individual to flourish in terms of pursuing goals and achieving fulfillment.
Conservative also want good social order and security even if that is at the expense of freedom, rights and equality'
For example in the second half of the 20th century Conservatism looked at society as a whole in contrast to Liberalism and then in contrast to Socialism Thatcher then took conservatism to mean the individual.
There are some constants throughout these reactions:
Opposition to rigid ideology
Respect for traditions
Paternalistic view of Democracy
Where people take personal responsibility for their actions.
2. Organic society
Where people have positions in society and that everyone integrates and has obligations to the community.
As explained in the previous section human beings are security-seeking creatures, dependent on each other.
This makes them incapable of living without a society.
The social order exists to nurture the individual. Society is what gives human life meaning.
Freedom for anarchists cannot be understood in negative terms rather freedom is a willing acceptance of social obligation and ties by individuals who recognize their values.
With a society like an organism, the whole is more than the collection of parts. And it can “stay alive” if each part fulfills its assigned part or duty.
An organic society comes into being naturally, which comes into being with natural social impulses such as love caring, and responsibility.
This view of society has some relevant implications, If society is organic, its structures and institutions have been shaped by forces that are not in human control.
Hence it must not be tampered with
3. Human imperfection
They believe that humans are imperfect and cannot be changed.
Crime exists in society because of human nature.
Only order can allow human beings from giving in to their violent and selfish impulses.
Human beings' intellectual powers are also understood to be limited, for conservatives the world is far too complicated to be understood by human beings.
4. Order & Hierarchy
Essential to the continuation of society for there to be structure and leadership.
The Conservative focus on authority reinforces the aforementioned belief in a hierarchy and the inevitability of inequity.
Conservatives see power as a natural entity that already exists and is imposed on us 'from above,' much like society itself.
As a result, unlike Liberals, Conservatives do not believe that exercising legal power requires the explicit permission of the subject of the authority.
This, it is said, would be meaningless because the authority holder must offer advice, support, and help to people who lack the capacity, knowledge, or experience to make their own decisions.
Conservatives do not believe that authority that comes from above is a negative thing.
This refers to the beliefs, institutions, customs, and practices handed down from one generation to the next.
There is an acceptance that while this has negative connotations it is a necessity for society to progress.
6. Private property
They stress the importance of property as a way for people to be part of society and as a way to contradict socialism.
Property is a notion that conservatives place a high value on.
Many Conservatives, on the other hand, maintain that property ownership has broader social and psychological benefits.
First possession of property ensures financial security.
Second, it is argued that a society that enables private property ownership drives its citizens to follow the law and behave lawfully.
Goes against the idea that Conservatism is fully opposed to change. Realisation that there needs to be a working relationship between governed and government.
Types of Conservatism
1. Authoritarian Conservatism
Authoritarian conservatism comes from the tradition which has favored authoritarian rule, especially in Europe.
Joseph De Maistre was one of the staunchest defenders of the French monarchy and the toughest critic of the French revolution.
In his text the Du Pape endorsed the idea that above the earthly rule there exists a higher spiritual authority of the Pope.
He stood for the preservation of order without which he felt the society would be thrown off in chaos and oppression.
2. Paternalistic Conservatism
Paternalistic conservatism can be traced back to the Anglo-American tradition inspired by Edmund Burke who espoused that if the change is natural and inevitable then it must not be resisted.
The characteristic of this style of conservatism is cautious, modest and pragmatic.
The values of conservatism can only be preserved under practical circumstances.
There are two strands of paternalistic conservatism: One Nation conservatism Benjamin Disraeli, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom set up the foundations of this type of conservatism via his texts of Sybil (1845) and Coningsby (1844).
These novels focused on the principle of social obligation rather than extreme individualism. Disraeli’s ideas can be best summed up as prudent and principal.
Britain was in danger of becoming two nations which are the Rich and the Poor.
Social inequality would contain seeds of revolution. Hence it would be prudent to have reform to prevent any drastic revolution.
3. Christian Democracy
After world war II many Christian democratic parties adopted interventionist policies.
The most significant of these parties were the Christian Democratic Union in West Germany and Christian Democratic Party in Italy.
After the war, many conservatives abandoned their authoritarian stands and adopted the paternalistic social traditions of Catholicism.
Catholic theory focuses on social groups rather than individuals and social harmony and balance rather than competition.
Democratic corporatism was encouraged to highlight the importance of intermediate institutions such as churches, Unions, and Business groups which are all bound together with the notion of social partnership.
4. Libertarian Conservatism
Libertarian conservatism, sometimes known as conservative libertarianism, is a political theory that blends conservatism with libertarianism, with the libertarian side of conservatism representing the conservative wing and vice versa.
Libertarian conservatism promotes maximum economic liberty and little government control of social life, similar to laissez-faire classical liberalism, but with a belief in a more socially conservative worldview emphasizing authority, morality, and responsibility.
Libertarian conservatism, which has its roots in the United States, places a premium on liberty, encouraging free expression, freedom of choice, and free-market economics to achieve conservative goals while rejecting liberal social engineering.
In the libertarian drive to minimize governmental power, libertarian conservatism may also be defined as strengthening civil society through conservative institutions and authority—such as family, country, church, and education.
5. New Right
This encompasses 2 distinct and in some people’s opinions conflicting traditions, those of economic liberalism and social conservatism.
Economic Liberalism or neo-liberalism is seen as the dominant area of the New Right, where they push back state intervention in the economy in order for private enterprise to flourish. This has been pushed by the new right in response to the Liberal Socialist and Conservative governments of the 20th century and their attempts to bring about social change through greater governmental intervention.
Social Conservative highlight the breakdown in modern society of law and order through the spread of liberal and permissive values. They look back upon traditional values and argue for the restoration of authority and social discipline.
Critics of conservatism will say that the difference between traditional conservatism and the New Right made the split irreconcilable and that conservatism is now incoherent.
Conservatives will argue that they are advancing certain unpalatable truths about people and that they require strong government and security, without being weighed down by principles such as liberty equality and justice. They prefer to look back on history to provide the basis for their political theory.
However, we must not just comment on conservatism in terms of a party it is interesting to see the different strands of conservatism that can be seen in the previous three leaders and their approach.
Conservatism can be identified by certain attitudes or values and can be traced back to the age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution.
Conservatism had not really changed but the circumstances around it have and therefore this ideology has had to react and alter itself in order to survive.
Although at the moment the party is struggling due to this ability to change it would be foolhardy to write them off as a political force.