Saturday, October 27, 2007

This article deals with conservatism as a political philosophy. For other uses (such as national movements or parties), see Conservatism (disambiguation) and/or the navigation bar on the right side of this page.
Conservatism is a term used to describe political philosophies that favor traditional values, where "tradition" refers to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs. The term is derived from the Latin, conservāre, to conserve; "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.
Conservatism as a political ideology is notoriously difficult to define, encompassing numerous different movements in various countries and time periods; there may sometimes be contradictions between the alternate conceptions of conservatism as the ideology of preserving the past, and the contemporary worldwide conception of conservatism as a right-wing political stance. For instance, as one commentator questions, "who are the 'conservatives' in today's Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher?"

Development of thought

Schools of conservatism

Main article: Cultural conservatism Cultural 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.
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.
Because many religions preserve a founding text the possibility of Radical Religious Conservatism arises. These are radical both in the sense of abolishing the status quo and of a perceived return to the radix or root of a belief. They are ante conservative in their claim to be preserving the belief in its original or pristine form. Radical Religious Conservatism generally sees the status quo as corrupted by abuses, corruption, or heresy. 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.

Religious 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.

ConservatismConservatism Fiscal conservatism
Many forms of conservatism incorporate elements of other ideologies and philosophies. In turn, conservatism has influence upon them. Most conservatives strongly support the nation-state (although that was not so in the 19th century), and patriotically identify with their own nation. Nationalist separatist movements may be both radical and conservative. They appeal to tradition and often emphasise rural life and folkways.

Ideological interaction and influence
Conservative patriotism is sometimes 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.
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.
Conversely, some conservatives say that to defend their nation's way of life, they may need to criticize or even oppose the existing regime. For example, G. K. Chesterton responded to Decatur in The Defendant, saying ""My country, right or wrong," is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, "My mother, sober or drunk." Further, paleoconservatives and others say that in this era of the managerial state, there is no clear consensus on what institutions should be conserved; therefore, the term conservative has little relevant meaning today.

Conservatism and economics
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. Most conservatives distrust the xenophobic and even racist sentiments prominent on the political right, just as most 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.
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.

Conservatism in different countries
Main articles: Conservatism in the United States and Canadian conservatism

North America
Conservatism in the United Kingdom is related to its counterparts in other Western nations, but has a distinct tradition. Edmund Burke is often considered the father of conservatism in Anglo-American circles. Burke was a Whig, while the short name "Tory" is given to the modern Conservative Party. Being an 18th century Whig does not preclude a person from being a major figure in the development of that Party. The modern day Party system cannot safely be traced back before the French Revoluntion and subsequent wars. The views of Burke remain a central tenet of conservative thinking across much of the English-speaking world. As one Australian scholar argues, "For Edmund Burke and Australians of a like mind, the essence of conservatism lies not in a body of theory, but in the disposition to maintain those institutions seen as central to the beliefs and practices of society." both concepts incompatible with the traditional conception of "conservatism" as signifying support for the established order and existing social convention.

British conservatism
Conservatism in Australia is related to British and American conservatism in many respects, but has a distinct political tradition. Like conservatism in many other nations, Australian conservatism is traditionally composed of diverse groups and interests, which are united more by opposition to certain political developments than by a distinct shared ideology; as one scholar argues, "Australian conservatives are more readily characterised by what they reject than by any shared set of values."

Australian conservatism
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.

One Nation Conservatism
Gaullism See also

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