Why, and to what extent, have conservatives been committed to tradition and continuity?
Conservatism was a reaction to all other ideologies. It believed in conserving the best of the past and governing society with reform, not revolution. In the French revolution there was a lot of uncertainty because people did not know what to do afterward and they ended up in a worse position then they were before. Conservatives believe that humans are; psychologically imperfect, which means that we are security seeking creatures who dislike change. They believe we are intellectually imperfect which means we are incapable of acting rationally and are very instinctive. They believe we are morally imperfect which means we are born sinful and conservatists have a profound scepticism about our natural goodness.
Conservatives have always been committed to tradition, ever since Toryism was first formed. They only believe in slow change which relates to peoples changing views and opinions like the English Legal System. Because they believe we are psychologically imperfect, they don’t want us to undergo any uncertainty whatsoever and so they dislike revolution because even though people may have a ‘better’ idea of how things should work, it has not yet had the test of time and so there is no need for risk. Conservatives believe society is like a living organism i.e. a tree, so it needs to reach out to both the past and the future and cannot be severed from its roots to survive. Since individuals lack wisdom, tradition is a better test of goodness and virtue, as Edmund Burke said, ‘the accumulated wisdom of the ages as the heritage of society is the best source of virtue and goodness’.
Conservatists are pragmatic, which fits into their commitment for continuity, they are not opposed to change, but question it and only accepts slow, specific, evolutionary change. Conservatists preserve the best and change what is essential. Tories changed to Conservatories because they needed to accept limited change to prevent greater change. This is why they accepted the extension of the franchise ‘the right to vote’ and the rise of the welfare state to forestall more radical demands.
Conservatism is not trying to go backwards ore forwards, but rather to preserve the status quo. This means it is not trying to create a utopian society like Liberalism, Socialism and Anarchism. Conservatists believe that human nature is not a constant, but ever changing as the nature of society changes and therefore have criticised all other ideologies on the grounds that they have been based on a fixed view of human nature. Classic Liberalism had an ideology with a fixed view of human nature and believed in Laissez-faire economics where the private companies would control the economy and help it to grow, but in the industrial revolution, they saw that capitalists took advantage of the workers and so modern liberalism was born, this shows that Conservatives have a better knowledge of human nature than the liberals do.
Conservatists do not like abstract theory and the intellectual approach to politics. It believes in an un-codified constitution which can evolve through time like the UK constitution. It acts on the basis of concrete observation, circumstances and past events, rather than a theory.
In conclusion the extent that Conservatism has been committed to tradition and continuity is very high because the whole point of conservatism is to preserve and in the early days of Toryism, they wanted to keep things exactly the way they were, this is why people call them the party for the rich because in the early days, the aristocrats and land owners had the power. Tories had to become Conservatists to cope with the ever-society and to prevent revolution like in France they had to give in to some democratic demands.
Conservatists do not believe in the majority having a say, because what the majority want is not always right for the nation, this is where paternalism comes in so that the relationship between the state and its people is like parents and their children, it may not always seem right or fair, but in the long run it is what’s best for the Country. Conservatists want to continue the way things run so that society moves on and is not in a stand still place, where people become uncertain about how the Country will be governed, or if other Countries will see this as a chance to attack. A tree is not taken out of its roots and continued growing.
Courtney from Study Moose
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