Main Features Of British Conservatism

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21st Feb 2019 Politics Reference this

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The ideology of conservatism is seen as one of the most important structural components of modern political ideologies. However, there are great difficulties in determining its substantive content. The term “conservative” comes from the Latin “conserve” – to maintain, protect. However, its ideological and political importance can be hardly identified, which is associated with a number of circumstances. Firstly, in the process of development an inversion of historical values of liberalism and conservatism has occurred. Thus, many fundamental principles of classical liberalism – the demand for freedom of the market and limiting government intervention – are now seen as conservative. At the same time the idea of a strong central governing power of the state, launched earlier by traditionalist conservatives, now became an essential component of a liberal mind. Secondly, there is the internal heterogeneity of the political ideology of conservatism, which includes various aspects, but is gathered by one common feature – the justification and stabilization of established social structures. Bearers of the ideology of conservatism are the social groups, strata and classes who are interested in preserving the traditional social order, or in its recovery. There are two ideological formations in the structure of conservatism. One focuses on the sustainability of the social structure in its unaltered form, the other one addresses the opposing political forces and trends. In this context, conservatism is both political ideology justifying the existing order, and appeal to the lost. Different directions and forms of conservatism exhibit common features. These include: recognition of the existence of universal moral and religious order and the imperfection of human nature, belief in the innate inequality of men and the limited possibilities of the human mind, the conviction of the need for a rigid social and class hierarchy and preferences of established social structures and institutions.

British conservatism is perceived by many people as a British national trait, inseparable from everything English. Conservatism, which got here its highest expression and perfection, is a traditional political ideology of the British. It is with the English Parliament originated the famous distinction between right and left, and many other political definitions (Clarke 1996).

British conservatism, which understands that human nature is not perfect enough for perfect political institutions, is implemented in the following fundamental approaches:

  • Preference of gradual changes to the radical.
  • Preference of specific and nearby to the distant and utopian.
  • Mentality of conservatism is the mentality of traditionalism.
  • Conservatism is characterized by a certain conception of man, society, state, and history.
  • Conservative thinking may be regarded as an ideology of right-wing forces in society, expressing their desire to preserve the existing social organization. But not this aspect is important. It is important that the proletariat has nothing to lose but their chains, right and conservative members of society have much to preserve, develop and grow.
  • Conservatism can be considered independently of the material and economic interests as an ideology consisting of certain basic principles and concepts of human, state, society and history. For example, the answer to the question “What makes the freedom of each person and the real political freedom in society and state?” inevitably leads us to understanding of the better role of conservative unchanging institutions like the state, family, law, religion, against the backdrop of “progressive” attempt to rebuild and destroy for extreme individualistic “self”.

Traditional conservatism is associated with the names of E. Burke (1729-1797), J. de Maistre (1753-1821) and Louis de Bonald (1754-1840). In the 20th century, the main forerunner of this trend was R. Kirk, who published in 1953 book “The Conservative Mind”. Homeland of conservatism as a political ideology, which was a specific reaction to the ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, was England. In 1790 E. Burke published a book “Reflections on the Revolution in France”. Louis de Bonald and J. de Maistre are considered to be original classics of feudal aristocratic conservatism. E. Burke, son of modest Irish lawyer, is characterized by ambivalence and inconsistency of the feudal-aristocratic and bourgeois system components of his political views. Precisely because of inconsistencies and discrepancies, many of Burke’s ideas can be interpreted very widely and in different contexts, and find support of the wider social groups (Coxall & Robins 2003).

Political ideology of the British conservatism includes many of the categories developed by these thinkers. One of the most important in it is the concept of “natural aristocracy”, which includes, according to Burke, not only the nobles, but also rich businessmen, educated people, lawyers, scientists and artists. Wealth on the grounds of reason and policy deserves a privileged position in society. Otherwise, “recurrence of the revolution” is possible.

One of the main features of the British conservatism is the concept of “traditionalism”. In contrast to the ideas of the Enlightenment, tradition is opposed to reason and put over it, because it means the subordination of action under the natural course of things and the age-old wisdom. Traditionalism is the basis of understanding the change, update, reform, which should not violate the natural course of things. At the same time two main types of reforms are distinguished: reforms aimed at restoring the traditional rights and principles, and preventive reforms aimed at preventing revolution. At the same time there is seen the difference between “change” and “reform”. Changes alter the essence of the object; the reform doesn’t affect it and is forced as a tool that must be applied. Joseph de Maistre and Louis de Bonald, rejecting the republic, any reform and contrasting it to tradition and prestige, saw the path to salvation in strengthening the political role of religion. The core of the political ideas of de Maistre was the idea of equilibrium, understood as the creation of the strategic balance in the political and spiritual life based on a theocratic approach. De Bonald, without giving priority to either secular or religious authorities, launched the idea of an alliance of religious and political society (Clarke 1996).

In general, the political idea of traditionalism includes organic conception of society, according to which it has been originally there, like organic nature, and does not arise as a result of social evolution: the interpretation of the participation of the individual as presenting no intrinsic value, but entirely dependent on the support of the conservative order; the idea of elitism and antidemocratism, according to which inequality among people is an axiom of politics, because “equality is the enemy of freedom” (Burke), freedom for the highborn and propertied; rejection of the idea of progress and contrasting it to the ideas of the historical cycle (Mitternih).

In the 20th century, R. Kirk, developing the principles of traditionalism, wrote that in the revolutionary era people were fascinated by novelty, but then they got tired of it and wanted the old principles back. History is interpreted as a cyclical process. Therefore, at a certain turn the conservative order comes back again. Conservatives seek to ensure a broad national consensus, appealing to the traditional views and prejudices, authority and religion. Social and economic problems they rarely transfer into a religious-ethical plane. Thus, in the 80ies, R. Kirk has emphasized the following principles of traditionalist conservatism: the belief in the order of a higher level than the human ability to adapt, and the belief that the economy goes into politics, politics into ethics, and ethics into religious concepts.

Another basic feature of the British conservatism lies in understanding that individual is foolish. The crowd is stupid, when acting without thinking, but the human race is always wise, and when it has enough time, he is always doing the right thing. The experience of many generations is embodied in the mores, customs and traditions.

So, we must take care of this heritage: instead of getting rid of all old prejudices, we must consider them. It is dangerous to allow people to live and act with the support of just own stock of mind, because this stock of the individual is small, it is better to turn to a universal bank of knowledge accumulated for centuries by many peoples. The older the existing institution is, the more respect it deserves, as it has passed the hardest test – the test of time, and absorbed the wisdom of the ancestors (Coxall & Robins 2003).

Confrontation between parliamentary factions gives the necessary guarantee to preservation of the state system of Britain. Party unities, regardless of what goals they pursue in their work, are an integral part of a free state. British people by Burke’s mouth gave the classic definition of a political party – a group of people united by a particular, shared by everyone principles for national interests.

But not only inter-party contradictions define the development of the state. Rivalry between different branches of government, each of which wished to expand its influence but is forced to reckon with other similar encroachments, provides a dynamic equilibrium for the state, and the inviolability of the rights and privileges for citizens. This balance of opposing aspirations lies at the basis of the English political system. Although the three highest state authority in Britain are of different nature – the monarchy (the Crown), aristocratic (the Lords) and democratic (House of Commons) – together despite their differences, are harmoniously integrated.

English conservatism also recognizes divergence of interests between different social strata, in particular, stressing that income inequality is the most effective incentive to work, without which the existence of civilization is impossible. According to the conservative views the problem of poverty can be solved only gradually, with the development of production.

Conservatism believes the contradictions are an inherent element of social life and art of politics is to achieve such an optimal combination of strengths and weaknesses, where even weaknesses would serve to the benefit of society.

Conservatism of Great Britain denies the possibility of the existence of political organization, same suitable for all ages and nations (Clarke 1996).

Institutions of each state are the result of long historical development and adaptation to national circumstances, traditions and customs of the country. Every age has its own customs, and policies are determined by them. During the conflict of Britain with its American colonies, the Conservatives called on to carry out in each of the parts of the empire management according to the nature and circumstances of local people. They believed that the government was something purely practical, designed to benefit of people rather than to ensure compliance with the schemes of politicians. Among the most serious crimes of Lord Hastings and the entire administration of the East India Company conservatives attributed assault on centuries-old way of life of local people. If you manage the inhabitants of another country, you must do it according to their norms and principles, rather than forcing them to adapt other people’s ideas.

Together with the respect for the historically formed institutions British conservatism does not reject the possibility of reforming them. Life goes on, and in the new circumstances the old institutions may lose their original significance and become a hindrance to the normal functioning of the public body. In this case, even the most advanced age does not justify their preservation in old form (Coxall & Robins 2003).

However, any transformation, according to conservatives, must be partial and purely pragmatic. Reform is never a change of the essence or the common device of the subject. It is nothing more than a pill directed specifically against harassing malady. In other words, here the dominant principle for conservatism is also continuity and respect for the existing realities.

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