AskDefine | Define conservatism

Dictionary Definition

conservatism n : a political or theological orientation advocating the preservation of the best in society and opposing radical changes [syn: conservativism]

User Contributed Dictionary



From the , conservare, to conserve; to keep, guard, observe.


  1. A political philosophy that favors maintaining limited government involvement with respect to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs.
  2. A political philosophy that moral objectivism exists, and should be adhered to.

Extensive Definition

This article deals with conservatism as a political philosophy, for other uses see conservatism (disambiguation).
Conservatism is a term used to describe political philosophies that favor tradition and gradual change, where tradition refers to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs. The term is derived from the Latin, con-" (together) and "servare (to keep). Since different cultures have different established values, conservatives in different cultures have differing goals. Some conservatives seek to preserve the status quo or to reform society slowly, while others seek to return to the values of an earlier time, the status quo ante.
Conservatism as a political philosophy is difficult to define, encompassing numerous movements, and conservatives sometimes disagree about which parts of a culture are most worthy of preservation. Thus religious conservatives may be at odds with nationalist conservatives. There may be contradictions between alternative conceptions of conservatism as the ideology of preserving the past, and the contemporary worldwide conception of conservatism as a right-wing political stance. But Martin Blinkhorn asks the question, "who are the 'conservatives' in today's Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of modern conservatives such as Margaret Thatcher?"
Samuel Francis defined authentic conservatism as “the survival and enhancement of a particular people and its institutionalized cultural expressions”; Roger Scruton defines conservatism as the “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”; and Russell Kirk considered conservatism "the negation of ideology".

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."''
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 point to the rise of a conservative disposition in the wake of the Reformation, specifically to 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.
Edmund Burke was an Anglo-Irish statesman, who argued forcefully against the French Revolution, but he sympathized with some of the aims of the American Revolution. His classical conservative position often insisted that conservatism has no ideology, in the sense of a utopian program, 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 inherited institutions and customs.


Further reading

  • / Conservative political humor book
  • Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses / Theodore Dalrymple (2005) ISBN 1566636434
  • Fascists and conservatives : the radical right and the establishment in twentieth-century Europe / Martin Blinkhorn., 1990
  • Edmund Burke. Reflections on the Revolution in France, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. October 1997: ISBN 0-87220-020-5 (paper).
  • Crunden, Robert, The Superfluous Men: Critics of American Culture, 1900-1945, 1999. ISBN 1-882926-30-7
  • Recent conservative political thought : American perspectives / Russell G Fryer., 1979
  • Paul E. Gottfried, The Conservative Movement, 1993. ISBN 0-8057-9749-1
  • The British Right : Conservative and right wing politics in Britain / Neill Nugent., 1977
  • America alone : the neo-conservatives and the global order / Stefan A Halper., 2004
  • Ted Honderich Conservatism
  • Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind, 7th Ed., 2001. ISBN 0-89526-171-5
  • Russell Kirk, The Politics of Prudence, 1993. ISBN 1-882926-01-3
  • The conservative press in twentieth-century America / Ronald Lora., 1999
  • From the New Deal to the New Right: race and the southern origins of modern conservatism / Joseph E Lowndes., 2008
  • Jerry Z. Muller Conservatism
  • Right-wing women : from conservatives to extremists around the world / P Bacchetta., 2002
  • Unmaking law : the Conservative campaign to roll back the common law / Jay M Feinman., 2004
  • Radicals or conservatives? The contemporary American right / James McEvoy., 1971
  • Robert Nisbet Conservatism: Dream and Reality, 2001. ISBN 0-7658-0862-5
  • James Page, 'Ought the Neo-Cons Be Considered Conservatives? A Philosophical Response'.AQ: Journal of Contemporary Analysis. 75(6):32-33/40. 2003; available on-line at
  • Conservatism in America since 1930 : a reader / Gregory L Schneider., 2003
  • Noel O'Sullivan Conservatism
  • The new racism : conservatives and the ideology of the tribe / Martin Barker., 1982
  • A time for choosing : the rise of modern American conservatism / Jonathan M Schoenwald., 2001
  • Roger Scruton The Meaning of Conservatism
  • Facing fascism : the Conservative party and the European dictators, 1935-1940 / N J Crowson., 1997
  • Alexander Lee and Timothy Stanley The End of Politics: Triangulation, Realignment and the Battle for the Centre Ground (Politico's Publishing, 17 July 2006): ISBN 1-84275-174-3 (hardcover)
  • James Fitzjames Stephen, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

External links

conservatism in Bulgarian: Консерватизъм
conservatism in Catalan: Conservadorisme
conservatism in Czech: Konzervatismus
conservatism in Welsh: Ceidwadaeth
conservatism in Danish: Konservatisme
conservatism in German: Konservatismus
conservatism in Estonian: Konservatism
conservatism in Spanish: Conservadurismo
conservatism in Esperanto: Konservativismo
conservatism in Persian: محافظه‌کاری
conservatism in French: Conservatisme
conservatism in Irish: Coimeádachas
conservatism in Galician: Conservadorismo
conservatism in Korean: 보수주의
conservatism in Croatian: Konzervativizam
conservatism in Igbo: Conservatism
conservatism in Indonesian: Konservatisme
conservatism in Icelandic: Íhaldsstefna
conservatism in Italian: Conservatorismo
conservatism in Hebrew: שמרנות
conservatism in Kurdish: Şopparêzî
conservatism in Latin: Conservatismus
conservatism in Latvian: Konservatīvisms
conservatism in Lithuanian: Konservatizmas
conservatism in Hungarian: Konzervativizmus
conservatism in Macedonian: Конзерватизам
conservatism in Dutch: Conservatisme
conservatism in Japanese: 保守
conservatism in Norwegian: Konservatisme
conservatism in Norwegian Nynorsk: Konservatisme
conservatism in Polish: Konserwatyzm
conservatism in Portuguese: Conservadorismo
conservatism in Romanian: Conservatorism
conservatism in Russian: Консерватизм
conservatism in Simple English: Conservatism
conservatism in Slovak: Konzervativizmus
conservatism in Serbian: Конзервативизам
conservatism in Serbo-Croatian: Konzervativizam
conservatism in Finnish: Konservatismi
conservatism in Swedish: Konservatism
conservatism in Thai: อนุรักษนิยม
conservatism in Turkish: Muhafazakârlık
conservatism in Ukrainian: Консерватизм
conservatism in Samogitian: Kuonservatėzmos
conservatism in Chinese: 保守主义

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abnegation, abstinence, backwardness, calm, calmness, conservativeness, constraint, continence, control, cool, dispassion, evenness, fogyism, gentleness, golden mean, happy medium, impartiality, judiciousness, juste-milieu, laissez-faireism, lenity, meden agan, middle way, mildness, moderateness, moderation, moderationism, neutrality, nonviolence, nothing in excess, old school tie, old-fashionedness, pacifism, political conservatism, prudence, repose, resistance to change, restraint, rightism, self-abnegation, self-control, self-denial, self-restraint, serenity, sobriety, stability, standpattism, steadiness, temperance, temperateness, tranquillity, ultraconservatism, unexcessiveness, unextravagance, unextremeness, unprogressiveness, via media
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