Understanding conservative thought

My article in the November Quadrant, Conservative Thought in the Time of Covid (Part II), has now been put online where anyone can read it. It is strictly a discussion of political philosophy from a conservative perspective, or from what I think ought to be a conservative perspective. This is not everyone’s interest since this is totally abstracted from any particular issue, but goes to the essence of what I think a conservative philosophy consists of.

This is the conclusion, but it comes at the end of more than 9000 words, which are found in the first instalment that was published in October and now the lead up to where I conclude with what I think is the core issue of conservatism.

Conservative thought is often seen as having originated within the historic traditions of our Western religious beliefs. And while there is a great deal of truth to this, it is not the essence of modern conservative thought. Modern conservatism is based on defending individual rights and personal freedoms, politically and in our economic relations. Freedom of religion is one part of these freedoms, but no particular religious belief is at the core of conservative thought. Any religion, and no religion at all, is potentially consistent with conservatism.

These are the elements of conservatism as it needs to be understood if we are to defend ourselves against the rising socialist beliefs that are its major political alternative.

  1. An individual’s right to be left alone to live one’s own life as one pleases with no interference from government unless to prevent harm to others.
  2. Absolute right to free speech—anyone can say or write anything about anything they like at any time as part of a public discussion.
  3. Market economy—economic outcomes should be almost entirely based on individual personal decisions to produce. The government’s role in the creation of wealth is minimal.
  4. Adherence to a legal and moral tradition with historic roots based on individual rights and freely determined religious beliefs so long as those beliefs are not imposed on others.

This is the War of the Worlds at the present time, as it has been since the middle of the eighteenth century as the first glimmers of communal prosperity began to emerge. The earliest and possibly the greatest philosophical defenders of this tradition were Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, both of whom wrote great treatises on economic theory. Both understood that at the centre of our contentment with life, along with our ability to produce, were personal freedoms and individual rights.

The great error in much of the writings on conservative thought since these times has been to separate out the role of the market economy as, at best, a minor element in the structure of conservative thought. In fact, it is at the very core of what must be understood and defended.

The first of the articles may be found here: Conservative Thought in the Time of Covid. These are the major battlelines of our time, which is a battle that will soon end unless the non-conservative side of politics actually takes full control, which is always a danger and a possibility.

2 thoughts on “Understanding conservative thought

  1. Good points. As with the spiritual factor: With the 1st 27 years of my life as an atheist I was conservative; then, acknowledging Jesus as the Son of our Creator, I’m still conservative. So, yes, spirituality should not be a core tenet of conservativism. One can always love individual rights and personal freedoms.

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