Why, and to what extent, have conservatives placed their faith in pragmatism rather than principle? Pragmatism is the idea that one should take a flexible approach to politics; using an understanding of what is best for the people and what will bring stability, it also is about what is most wanted by the people. An example of this was the post war consensus when consecutive conservative governments didn’t cancel any of the widespread reforms brought in by the labour government of 1945-51. Principle is the complete opposite of pragmatism and is more ideological sticking to a certain view of how society should be and pursuing this. It is a political idea that changes with the times Conservatives have often favoured pragmatic approaches to situations an example being Benjamin Disraeli and his one nation toryism. Prior to this the general consensus about the poor made by early conservatives was that the poor were due to their own mistakes and that it was not the place of others to help them but that they should help themselves.
Due to the Disraeli seeing growth of social inequality he came to the conclusion that to ensure social stability and to stem the tide of revolution, the government should take measures to help the poor. This displays conservative pragmatism as it’s a clear example of the conservative thought changing and reacting to events. In Disraeli’s case these events were the French revolution. This shows how pragmatism was held dear to conservative thought. Another Reason conservatives tend to favour the pragmatic approach stems from conservative thinker Michael Oakeshot who argued that societies should not be directed towards certain goals, claiming ideological change is normally radical in nature and can lead tyranny and this should be avoided. However there are cases when ideology has gripped the conservative party, the biggest example could be the new right under Margaret Thatcher.
Here the conservative party appeared to break away from just an opposing role and instead began to pursue ideals of a free market; through the selling of national assets such as the railways and the deregulation of the banking system. It also saw a sort of reversal on the post war consensus, reducing the size of the welfare state. Here there was a clear example of principle being the main driving force within the conservative party as many of the actions taken by Thatcher’s government also faced a lot of criticism from many members of the opposition, the public and her own party. However the fact that the government policies of her day still pursued these principles in the wave of mass public unrest show that these changes weren’t in reaction to any event but simply part of the pursuit of a political ideal.
It seemed like the first time the conservative party had actually adopted some form of ideology. This is a clear example of principle being favoured over political ideology. At it’s very nature conservatism changes in regards to the ideology it’s opposing. It’s rooted in the original ideas of Edmund burke and his writings about the French revolution which claimed that radical change is bad and harmful for society. Conservativism right at its origin fears ideology and it’s very nature as it sees ideology and the radical views that tend to follow it as a threat to the balance of society.
At it’s heart conservativism isn’t an ideology but simply a political ideas which at it’s very nature is reactive with the main aim of preserving and bringing about gently staggered change rather than radical changes. It could be claimed that the new right weren’t in fact real conservatives and more like classical liberals. But in conclusion it would appear that true conservativism will always favour pragmatism over ideology.
Courtney from Study Moose
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