About years later, the founders of the conservative movement in America—the post—World War II, made-in-America conservatism associated, above all, with William F. Buckley—renewed the relationship between the Right and the people. Not the least practical benefit of understanding that relationship is its capacity to calm nerves and cool judgment. The conservative challenge in the age of Trump calls for nothing less. I n , in Reflections on the Revolution in France , Edmund Burke threw into sharp relief issues that would define modern conservatism.
They revolved around the reconciliation of freedom and tradition. Not because freedom was new—the desire for freedom is coeval with civilization—but because the idea of a political freedom to which each person justly laid claim was still young.
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The conservative impulse is also of ancient origin. It follows that conservatism is not one, but many. Conservatisms will be as numerous and varied as are traditions. The short answer is yes. Across time and culture, conservatives have tended to recognize the unruliness of the passions and the limits of reason. They believe that recondite reflection and abstract theory tend to obscure practical matters; as a guide to politics, conservatives strongly prefer experience and practical wisdom.
And conservatives see individuals as social creatures, whose characters are formed by—and whose fulfillment is achieved in—family, local community, civic association, national life, and religion. Burke is the founding father of modern conservatism because he was the first to confront directly the challenge of conserving modern freedom. The challenge is simply stated: tradition teaches us to do as our forebears have done; modern freedom authorizes each to do as he or she deems best.
But sometimes what we think is best conflicts with what our forebears thought necessary and proper. Moreover, the spread of the modern idea that human beings are, by nature, free and equal provided a handy standard for evaluating existing governments—and for finding them wanting. Burke drew no hard-and-fast distinction between conserving and reforming; reforming, he grasped, was essential to conserving. Indeed, for most of his long parliamentary career—stretching from to —Burke was best known for defending political freedom against the abuse of power.
He sided with the American colonists in their demand for representation in decisions about their taxes. They saw the uprising against the old regime as heralding a new age of freedom. Burke discerned a novel and monstrous threat to liberty. He had not altered his principles, he insisted; he was honoring their implications in the struggle against an unprecedented peril. It aspired to perfect politics by transforming humanity. This was madness, Burke contended. It was indissolubly bound up with an awareness of debt to previous generations, of responsibility to fellow citizens, and of obligation to those to come.
Prejudice— pre -judgment—comprised the accumulated wisdom of community, nation, and faith. These institutions cultivated the virtues, fostered cooperation, and encouraged respect for rights and duties. Burke did not pander to the people. He set forth the first great conservative critique of the progressive interpretation of modern freedom. He did so in the name of traditions in and through which the people had governed themselves and prospered.
L ike the conservatism that Burke inaugurated, the conservative movement in America was forged in response to a crisis—a pair of crises, in fact. Classical liberals and traditionalists, the component groups in American conservatism, had their differences. Classical liberals sought to conserve limited government and the ideas that underwrite it.
Traditionalists strove to conserve traditional morality and the local communities that embodied it.
Classical liberals are not known for their populist propensities. Yet the modern tradition of freedom that Hayek undertook to preserve leaves the people to their own devices, able to make their own decisions about labor, production, and consumption. The protection of economic freedom, Hayek maintained, established a sturdy fence around religious and political freedom. During the early s, in The Conservative Mind , author Russell Kirk reconstructed a tradition of thought that emphasized conserving traditional morality.
Yet, also like classical liberalism, it shielded people from elites bent on rescuing them from themselves. Despite their shared opposition to collectivism, classical liberalism and traditionalism—or the partisans of freedom and the partisans of tradition—often clashed. The enthusiasm that some traditionalists demonstrated for legislating their morality offended classical liberals.
And the indifference that some classical liberals displayed about the moral foundations of free societies scandalized traditionalists. With the founding of National Review in , William F. Buckley set out to unite the conservative factions.
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In part, Buckley responded to a practical imperative: any viable conservative government majority in the United States would depend on both classical liberals and traditionalists—something that remains true today. But for Buckley, the marriage was not one of mere convenience. It improved both partners. Limited government protected traditional morality, Buckley believed; and traditional morality taught the virtues of freedom.
Like classical liberals and traditionalists, Buckley underscored the threat to the people posed by progressive elites. The Constitution established a limited government through complex institutional arrangements designed to keep government within its prescribed boundaries.
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To that end, the sovereign people rule indirectly under the Constitution and, at a distance, through elected representatives. In , Ronald Reagan owed his presidency in part to disgruntled blue-collar Democrats and an energized religious Right. In , George H. Bush lost his bid for a second term because 19 percent of the electorate—drawn disproportionately from conservative ranks—voted for populist upstart Ross Perot.
Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. Main article: Right-wing populism. Alt-right Conservative revolutionary movement Dark Enlightenment Left—right politics List of right-wing political parties New Right Paternalistic conservatism Right-wing authoritarianism Structural functionalism. A Political Glossary.
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