Conservatism: Core Ideas

Conservatism: Core Ideas

The Primacy of Tradition

  • Conservatism is fundamentally about preserving tradition and the existing social order.
  • Conservatives view tradition as the accumulation of societal wisdom, developed over generations through trial and error.
  • They argue that tradition provides a sense of continuity, identity, and security within society.
  • Notable proponents of this viewpoint include conservative philosopher Edmund Burke.


  • Conservatives emphasise pragmatism and practicality over abstract theory.
  • This is based on the belief that theoretical ideologies are unrealistic and disruptive to established societal systems.
  • They assert that policies should be assessed based on their results and feasibility rather than their ideological purity.
  • Sir Robert Peel, a key figure in modern British conservatism, is credited with introducing this pragmatic approach.

Human Imperfection

  • The conservative ideology assumes inherent human imperfection.
  • Conservatives believe humans are limited in their understanding of the complex systems of society, thus changes should be gradual and cautious.
  • This belief often leads to scepticism towards proposals for radical societal overhaul.
  • Thomas Hobbes, a central figure in conservative thought, argued that human nature is prone to conflict and competition, hence the need for order and stability.

Organic Society

  • Conservatives propose the idea of an organic society, where all elements are intertwined and interdependent, much like a living organism.
  • They argue that society is bound together by a shared culture, traditions and values, which form a social contract.
  • The welfare of the individual is inseparable from the welfare of the wider community.
  • Roger Scruton, a renowned conservative philosopher, emphasised the importance of mutual dependence and affection in an organic society.

Authority and Hierarchy

  • Conservatives defend the existence of authority and hierarchy in society.
  • They believe that hierarchical structures are natural and necessary for social order.
  • Authority provides a reassuring form of leadership, while hierarchy instils discipline and respect.
  • William F. Buckley Jr., an influential conservative theorist, argued for the preservation of traditional authority in support of social stability.

Note: Conservatism is a wide and varied ideology with many sub-schools of thought, and the beliefs of conservatives can often differ depending on their cultural and national context. It’s important to remember these descriptions provide general themes within conservatism rather than specific, universally accepted beliefs.