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Originally Published: 10/6/2006


By The Issue Wonk


Conservatism is a political philosophy that adheres to “established values or the status quo. . .  Defined in part as an emphasis on tradition as a source of wisdom that goes beyond what can be demonstrated or even explicitly stated.”  (Wikipedia)  Edmund Burke is frequently considered the father of Conservative thought.  He argued that “tradition” is a more sound foundation than an abstraction such as “reason.”1


Conservatism is not as clearly defined as is Liberalism.  However, contrary to popular belief, Conservatives do not reject change, but prefer that it be gradual rather than revolutionary.  They believe that less government is better government and strongly support property rights.  They have a strong tolerance for inequality.  Other than these, there are many viewpoints.  Historically, Conservatism is a descendent of the 17th Century “Tory.”  At that time, the two (2) parties in Britain’s Parliament were Tories and Whigs.  “Thomas Jefferson took ‘Whig’ to mean, in general, those in favor of change, and ‘Tory’ to mean those opposed to change, i.e., conservative.”1


According to the Columbia Encyclopedia:2


Modern political conservatism emerged in the 19th cent. in reaction to the political and social changes associated with the eras of the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. . .  By the 20th cent. conservatism was being redirected by ertwhile liberal manufacturing and professional groups who had achieved many of their political aims and had become more concerned with preserving them from attack by groups not so favored.  Conservatism lost its predominantly agrarian and semifeudal bias, and accepted democratic suffrage, advocated economic laissez-faire, and opposed extension of the welfare state.


The term “conservative” has been used in many different ways.  Following are definitions.


Cultural Conservatism refers to preserving the heritage of a nation or culture.


Religious Conservatism refers to preserving the teachings of a particular religion, sometimes seeking to have those teachings given the force of law.


Fiscal Conservatism is an economic philosophy that promotes prudence in government spending and debt.




1 Ross, Kelley L.  1996, 2004.  Conservatism, History, and Progress.  The Friesian School.

2 The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001-2005.  See Bartleby.com.




© The Issue Wonk, 2006




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