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Key Concepts: Hierarchy; Authority; Change to conserve; Atomism; Noblesse oblige; Anti-permissiveness; Human imperfection; Laissez-faire; Empiricism.

Core principles and ideas

Core ideas and principles of conservatism and how they relate to human nature, the state, society and the economy:

pragmatism – flexible approach to society with decisions made on the basis of what works – to cover links between pragmatism and traditional conservative and one-nation philosophy

tradition – accumulated wisdom of past societies and a connection between the generations – to cover how this creates stability, links with organic change, and enhances humans’ security

human imperfection – humans are flawed which makes them incapable of making good decisions for themselves – to cover the three aspects of psychological, moral and intellectual imperfection

organic society/state – society/state is more important than any individual parts – to cover how this links to the underpinning of the beliefs of authority and hierarchy, and a cohesive society

paternalism – benign power exerted from above by the state, that governs in the interests of the people – to cover the different interpretations by traditional (an authoritarian approach, the state knows what is best so the people must do what they are told) and one-nation conservatives (there is an obligation on the wealthy to look after those who are unable to look after themselves)and why it is rejected by New Right Conservatives

libertarianism (specifically neo-liberalism) – upholds liberty, seeking to maximise autonomy and free choice, mainly in the economy – to cover the moral and economic values associated with this idea.

Differing views and tensions within conservatism

traditional conservative − commitment to hierarchical and paternalistic values

one-nation conservative − updating of traditional conservatism in response to the emergence of capitalism

New Right − the marriage of neo-liberal and neoconservative ideas and include:

(a) neo-liberal: principally concerned with free-market economics and atomistic individualism

(b) neo-conservative: principally concerned with the fear of social fragmentation, tough on law and order and public morality.

Conservative thinkers and their ideas

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)

Order – an ordered society should balance the human need to lead a free life.

Human nature – humans are needy, vulnerable and easily led astray in attempts to understand the world around them.

Edmund Burke (1729–1797)

Change – political change should be undertaken with great caution and organically.

Tradition and empiricism – practices passed down for generations should be respected.

Michael Oakeshott (1901–1990)

Human imperfection – suggestion that society is unpredictable and humans are imperfect.

Pragmatism – belief that conservatism is about being pragmatic.

Ayn Rand (1905–1982)

Objectivism – this advocates the virtues of rational self-interest.

Freedom – this supports a pure, laissez-faire capitalist economy.

Robert Nozick (1938–2002)

Libertarianism – based on Kant’s idea that individuals in society cannot be treated as a thing, or used against their will as a resource.

Self-ownership – individuals own their bodies, talents, abilities and labour.

Conservative Thinkers Quotes:

“It is not wisdom but authority that makes law.” (Hobbes)
Referring to a state of nature: “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Hobbes)

“The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.” (Hobbes)

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” (Edmund Burke)

“A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” (Edmund Burke)

“Abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found.” (Edmund Burke)

“To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible,…” (Michael Oakeshott.)

“In political activity . . . men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage…” (Michael Oakeshott.)

“The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better.” (Michael Oakeshott.)

“My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.” (Ayn Rand)

“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.” (Ayn Rand)

“Individuals have rights and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)” (Robert Nozick)

“a minimal state, limited, to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified, but any more extensive state will violate persons’ rights and is unjustified.” (Robert Nozick)

“There are only individual people, different individual people, with their own individual lives.” (Robert Nozick)