Political conservatism (typically shortened to just "conservatism"/"conservative") is a political identity which hews to a loose collection (similarity cluster) of beliefs, generally consisting of some combination of the following attributes:
- a set of beliefs about society:
- society must be preserved in its present form (it must not change)
- society cannot be changed for the better
- This sometimes includes a reactionary belief that society should move backwards, adhering more faithfully to traditional ways that have become neglected. To a reactionary, the ideal society would follow traditional forms to the letter.
- This is often phrased as "the human condition is eternal" or "human beings cannot be perfected" (cf Kipling)
- a strong right wing/authoritarian tendency; valuing social hierarchy over egalitarianism
- The conservative ideal encompasses what is best about conservatism, and ways in which the idea of conservatism is misrepresented or misused.
- Conservatives tend to be on the political right wing.
Conservatism encompasses a wide variety of possible viewpoints, with different aspects being emphasized in different countries:
- US conservatism
- RationalWiki has a good run-down of what "conservative" means in a number of different countries.
At Its Best
- Conservatism advises saving, rather than spending. Conservatism would be the voice that waits until there is an adequate positive balance in the till before buying new infrastructure or investing in new enterprises – rather than going into debt to do so.
- Conservatism advises looking carefully at new things before spreading them widely – and is always ready to take a second look if an accepted idea seems to have had unintended consequences.
- Conservatism advises careful management of resources for the long haul, rather than sacrificing them for short-term gain. (This differs greatly from American republicanism, which tends to see the short-term corporate bottom line as the number one priority.)
At Its Worst
- Conservatism is the philosophy which allows social problems to escalate to the point of crisis rather than spend money solving them – and then, when the small problem is a large problem for which there is no other solution but to spend money, waits for liberals to demand that money be spent so that they can later heap scorn on said liberals and associate them with the disaster they helped solve and did not create.
- When misfortune strikes, conservatism is the philosophy which will be the first to say "tough luck" and blame the victims.
Social conservatives believe that there is "wisdom embedded in [existing] social structures/norms", and that we tamper with those structures at our peril. In other words, the current social norms are the way they are because they have been proven to work over a long period of time, and there is considerable danger if they cease to work properly.
The implication of this is that we don't know how those norms got the way they are, nor why they work. This is at odds with the idea that we as a civilization have been documenting our own history in considerable detail for many centuries now, and are indeed quite capable of noting which experiments have succeeded, which failed, and which were made popular or unpopular without correlation to (and for reasons other than) their success or failure at their intended purpose. The social conservative attitude essentially favors custom over understanding, shuns experimentation, and fears the possible consequences.
Social conservatives are at odds with social liberals on certain issues:
- marriage (liberals want to broaden it, conservatives don't)
- death penalty (conservatives for, liberals against)
- gun control (conservatives against, liberals for)
Fiscal conservatives are more concerned about unnecessary government expenditure, and tend to prefer solutions where private industry or "faith-based" groups provide the bulk of the funding. For this reason, they tend to seek solutions based in free market incentives. They also tend to be against government regulation, however, which they unfortunately often seem to forget is a requirement for a free marketplace.
[ Rudyard Kipling ] was a conservative in the sense that he believed civilization to be something laboriously achieved which was only precariously defended. He wanted to see the defences fully manned and he hated the liberals because he thought them gullible and feeble, believing in the easy perfectibility of man and ready to abandon the work of centuries for sentimental qualms.
dKosopediano equivalent article (as of 2008-03-27); see search
- RationalWiki (redirects to Conservative)