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Eisenach Choice "O'Neill's close reading of Burke's writings is a very necessary contribution to our knowledge of eighteenth century imperial ideology. The Burke who emerges from these pages is no proto-liberal who later and paradoxically became a conservative in the aftermath of On the contrary, O'Neill insists he was always a conservative and always an imperialist and that, with very few exceptions, his thought was exceptionally coherent, consistent, and systematic.

Edmund Burke: The First Conservative

This is an impressive piece of revisionism. Daniel O'Neill assails those views and illuminates the modern politics of empire. Get the Collegiate Experience You Hunger For Your time at college is too important to get a shallow education in which viewpoints are shut out and rigorous discussion is shut down. Explore intellectual conservatism Join a vibrant community of students and scholars Defend your principles Join the ISI community.

Membership is free. Notice: JavaScript is required for this content. You might also like. Sign up to get your free ebooks. No Fields Found. Means-end thinking concerning the state is particularly inappropriate, as we have no choice but to belong to it, Oakeshott maintains. Politics is not the science of setting up a permanently impregnable society, it is the art of knowing where to go next in the exploration of an already existing traditional kind of society. Ideologists make everything political, but politics is only a part of human life, he holds. For Oakeshott, civil associations, are fundamental to modern, free democracies, and opposed to the modern interventionist state.

Enterprise associations, in contrast, are defined by a common purpose; society is not one of them. Politics, for Oakeshott, belongs to the mode of practice, along with religion and morality; the two other modes are science and history.


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We again see that conservatism, although a practical standpoint that appeals to experience, does not rest on philosophical empiricism. Oakeshott is a Burkean particularist sceptic, for whom politics concerns people developing ways of living together in light of their history and traditions, not driven by universal extrinsic goals such as equality or elimination of poverty:. In political activity…men sail a boundless and bottomless sea: there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.

The enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel… When the mechanic has to mend a watch, he lets the wheels run out, but the living watchworks of the state have to be repaired while they act, and a wheel has to be exchanged for another during its revolutions. Aesthetic Education , Letter 3. However, Gamble adds, that disposition gains substance from its connection with national ways of life and traditions:. For Oakeshott, the past conceived in this way is intensely liberating because it is a repository of a wealth of practical knowledge, which is needed to live the good life.

Gamble For him, conversation is the model of education. In a position reminiscent of J. Unlike many non-Millian liberals, however, Oakeshott does not base his requirement of limited government in an abstract theory of human nature, and abstract rights. Other notable 20 th century conservative thinkers include historian Maurice Cowling and philosopher Anthony Quinton. Probably the leading living thinker is Roger Scruton, who bases conservatism on three concepts: authority, allegiance and tradition Scruton He rejects post-Hobbesian contractualism, which presupposes.

It is only somewhat Hegelian, because for Burkean conservatives, history lacks the moral or spiritual direction that Hegel discerned; there is no moral or spiritual progress, and people think collectively toward a common goal only during a crisis such as war. As we saw, established power that originates in revolution poses a problem for conservatism. Non-relativistic conservatives 1. Relativistic conservatives, in contrast, might accept these systems. On his view, tradition is inescapable, and societies rather rigid.

True conservatism is a decidedly English doctrine with little appeal…in other countries [because] only English and hence British institutions have ever been decent enough to allow a decent [person] to be conservative. Graham —9.

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As conservatives such as Burke supported the Revolution, so they should support the non-violent uprisings of MacIntyre, We saw that Burke regarded tradition and individual reason as contradictory principles, but may have endorsed a notion of collective reason Beveridge and Turnbull Conservatives would reply that Burke does stress the importance of incremental change, while Oakeshott, like MacIntyre, has an interrogative attitude to tradition. Moreover, the communitarian opposition to liberal values is limited, and does not extend to advocacy of religious intolerance and homogeneity or patriarchal authority see Taylor ; Waldron —though neither does the anti-liberalism of Burkean conservatives.

A further consideration is that traditional methods may not always yield the most practical responses Scott Millian liberalism is less subject to the conservative charge of rationalism. As Gamble puts it,. Oakeshott rejects the universal claims of liberalism, because he is only interested in claims that are grounded in English political experience. Bentham and—on some views—Burke seem to conceive only of legal rights; but if one can make sense of moral obligation, one can make sense of abstract rights.

Some writers on the left find value in conservatism. Minogue holds that. As Kant wrote,. But as they are ought to read as we have made them by unjust coercion, by treacherous designs which the government is in a good position to carry out. Kant Neiman —9. Men make their own history, but [not] under circumstances chosen by themselves…The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

Marx While Lenin aimed to impose a socialist blueprint through a vanguard party of specialists, for his Marxist critics Luxemburg and Kollontai, revolutionary tasks are unknowable in advance:. Given the uncertainty of the endeavour, a plurality of experiments and initiatives will best reveal which lines of attack are fruitful…[and produce] a creative, conscious…and empowered working class.

Scott —9. Lord Hugh Cecil postulates within modern conservatism what he calls innate conservatism: a psychological characteristic found in all people to some degree Cecil For C. D Broad, it has two sides:. The more worthy side [rational scepticism] [says] that social problems are so very complex that there is always a strong probability that some factor has been overlooked in any scheme of change…The less respectable side [mental inertia] is the dislike of novelty as such.

Rational scepticism, as a motive for rejecting a scheme that offers to remove admitted evils, involves two applications of probability. The first is…that social affairs are so complex that it is very improbable that all the effects of a given social change have been foreseen. But…we must have some ground for judging further that the unforeseen effects are more likely to be bad than good…this judgment cannot rest on the known nature of the effects of this particular measure [but only] on some general proposition, such as: It is more probable that the unforeseen effects of any social change will be bad than that they will be good.

Broad Broad is alluding to the fact that every philosophical standpoint must confront the problem of how to treat its own defining claims, by its own lights. Conservatism seems unduly pessimistic about the possibility of individual, explicit knowledge of society, therefore. There are some things about society that we can come to know—and government economic policy, for instance, seems justifiably dedicated to finding them out. Conservatives must concede that radical change is sometimes acceptable; some major changes, for instance votes for women, are good.

These must be prepared for—as they were in Britain in , compared with, say, —and preparing for change makes it less radical. What conservatives will insist is it that revolutionary change is unacceptable. Especially since the advent of green politics, there have been conservatives advocates for ecological conservation. A less noticed parallel is that between the opposition of cultural conservation and modernism, and that of conservatism and revolutionary Jacobinism Cohen , Other Internet Resources. Conservatives would criticise both developments.

Leading modernist poet T. Eliot — was also an important conservative thinker, and so occupies an ambivalent position. In contrast, the classical repertoire of Western art music is open and flexible, operating—when circumstances are propitious—as a living presence in contemporary culture. On a less exalted aesthetic level, the tuxedo is a living sartorial classic in this sense.

These cultural issues are central to G. In this sense, everyone is conservative to some degree—for instance, in preferring to have cash in their pocket rather than converting to a cashless society. Conservationism originated in the Victorian era. Morris argued that one should take delight in the history of old public buildings, and not seek to restore them to some pristine state of perfection. For Cohen, conservatives aim to conserve particular valuable things, rather than maximising value. The conservative policy is not to keep the value rating high but to keep the things that now contribute to that rating.

Cohen 15, Other Internet Resources. Conservatism is a relatively expensive taste, because it sacrifices value, in order not to sacrifice things that have value. It does not follow that conservatives welcome good new things any less than non-conservatives do, Cohen argues.

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However, Cohen continues, conservatives can regard modernisation as beneficial overall, while lamenting what has been lost—admiring a splendid new building, yet grieving over what it replaced. Market and planning logics tend against the truth that people want particular valuable things, not just satisfaction of general desiderata…market mania is deeply anti-conservative…If you want everything to be optimal, nothing will be good.

Some things have to just be…there, if anything is to be good. Cohen 28, Other Internet Resources. But although relativistic conservatives accept socially prevalent valuations, revising them piecemeal on the basis of internal inconsistency or impracticality, non-relativistic conservatives might deny that value can be quantified at all. This model rejects the blueprint model involving an individual creator. Rather, the town or building evolves—apparently spontaneously, over generations—without reference to a blueprint, and often without stylistic consistency.

The church as a building—or on the conservative model, a society—are like organisms, seemingly not the product of individual intentional action, but evolving naturally. Most English parish churches of medieval foundation were not built according to a single design, but developed by addition and subtraction; in the Middle Ages there was no profession of architect, and apparently little idea of an intentional, uniform schema generated prior to construction:. A church building is inherently conservative, and except for the extraordinary intervention, changed very slowly.

A large proportion of churches had been founded by at least the late 12 th century, many appearing in the Doomsday census of Elements from these early buildings often survive in the doorways or the base of towers, showing typical rounded arches and massive walls of the Norman style.

Additions over time could include a reconstructed window, a new baptismal font, a tomb sculpture, or a series of carved wooden choir stalls for the clergy, attesting to differing eras of piety and style. Stanbury and Raguin , Other Internet Resources. The parallel with conservative political thought is suggested by Scruton in his discussion of public space Scruton ; see also Hamilton, forthcoming. Scruton advocates a public art form on an urban scale, in the manner of treatises on urban decorum from the Renaissance onwards, which subordinate the style of the individual building to the whole.

Unlike models that achieve this subordination by conscious planning, Scruton envisages a process akin to the self-ordering of an ideal competitive market. The debate in architecture and aesthetics parallels that in the political sphere. For the conservative, there has to be some criterion of value in past things, involving in part their participation in a living tradition.

To develop and defend such a criterion is one of the major challenges facing conservative thinkers, in both political and cultural spheres. Conservatism First published Sat Aug 1, The Nature of Conservatism 1. The Development of Conservative Thought 2. Critiques of conservatism 3. Communitarian critique 3. Hoppit David Hume — is sometimes regarded as a conservative.

Cobban 75 For conservatives, abstract propositions cannot be simply applied to specific circumstances. Reform must be practically and not theoretically-based: I must see with my own eyes…touch with my own hands not only the fixed but the momentary circumstances, before I could venture to suggest any political project whatsoever Burke, WS III: For Kekes, conservatism adopts a stance of scepticism between extremes of rationalism and fideism belief based on faith , and steers a middle course of pessimism between claims of perfectibility and corruptibility 54, 89, Conservatives aim to conserve the political arrangements that have historically shown themselves to be conducive to good lives thus understood 27 ; they regard history [as] the best guide to understanding the present and planning for the future.

For Graham, conservative scepticism is not so much a scepticism about the moral perfection of mankind, as a scepticism about the knowledge necessary in politics. As Oakeshott argues A plan to resist all planning may be better than its opposite, but it belongs to the same style of politics. For him it is the intellectual justification of inequality and privilege, and the political justification of the authoritative relationships such inequalities and privileges demand.

Aughey 23; also Honderich 45 It is true that no revolution has proclaimed inequality, while for Burke, the social order is rooted in it; and conservatives may defend an established ruling class, regarding ruling as a skill likely to be most highly developed there. While conservatism should not be assimilated with neo-conservatism or neo-liberalism, many conservatives have converted to the latter: A political outlook that in Burke, Disraeli and Salisbury was sceptical of the project of the Enlightenment and suspicious of the promise of progress has mortgaged its future on a wager on indefinite economic growth and unfettered market forces.

Gray 88 Scruton also laments this development, while John Harris comments on the enduring tensions that Thatcher exposed in Conservatism: If you profess to believe in both the unrestrained market and such old Tory touchstones as family, nation and community, you will Conservative thinking expresses the standpoint of paternalism: …the value of individual liberty is not absolute, but stands subject to…the authority of established government…the conservative will seek to uphold all those practices and institutions through which habits of allegiance are acquired.

Scruton 19, 30 Obedience, for Scruton, is the principal virtue of political subjects, without which societies atomise and crumble; real freedom is not in conflict with obedience, but is its other side Scruton, For Beiser, paternalism holds that the purpose of the state is to promote the welfare, religion and morality of its subjects, and not only to protect their rights. As Steiner comments, When Burke reflected and published, the French Revolution was in its Arcadian phase [and] his bloodstained previsions seemed nearly hysterical…Retroactively… his sombre clairvoyance took on formidable weight.

In a speech of , he held it preposterous to take the theories which learned and speculative men have made from that government, and then, supposing it made on those theories which were made from it, to accuse that government as not corresponding with them.

As Pocock writes, the reason of the living, though it might clearly enough discern the disadvantages, might not fully perceive the advantages of existing and ancient institutions; there is always more in laws and institutions than [meets] the eye of critical reason. But to reiterate, Burke advocated organic and restorative reform, not reaction: a nation without the means of its own reform is without the means of its own preservation. Burke, WS III: 83 Burke mistrusted appeals beyond positive law, but his writings on India allow, in its absence, an appeal to natural law though not natural right.

Burke misrepresents the social contract of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau as a rather temporary expedient, nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico, or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties.

Burke, WS III: But his position is genuinely distinct from theirs in crossing the generations: [The state] is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue…As [its] ends…cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership…between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Ferguson Burke was a Christian thinker whose conservatism has been traced to his theological presuppositions Harris ; Cobban 94 ; he saw atheistic Jacobinism as a threat to Western cultural tradition. Mary Wollstonecraft, in her pamphlet A Vindication of the Rights of Men , said that had you been a Frenchman, you would have been, in spite of your respect for rank and antiquity, a violent revolutionist.

Wollstonecraft 44 In his later career, liberals believed, Burke showed himself a prisoner of the feudal and landed conception of society. Marx scathingly dismissed Burke as an opportunist: The sycophant—who in the pay of the English oligarchy played the romantic…against the French Revolution just as, in the pay of the North American colonies…he had played the liberal against the English oligarchy—was an out-and-out vulgar bourgeois. Others have variously attempted to reconcile the earlier and later Burke. Churchill argued that the Burke of Liberty and the Burke of Authority [sought] the same ideals of society and Government…defining them from assaults, now from one extreme, now from the other.

Bourke, in Dwan and Insole 29 Scruton echoes Burke when he argues that beliefs that appear to be examples of prejudice may be useful and important; the attempt to justify them will merely lead to their loss. Burke is opposed not to reason, but to the arrogance of individual reason, therefore: We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason…the stock in each man is small, and…individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages….

Burke, WS III: Rejecting the dominant individualist cognitive tradition in Western epistemology, Burke regards political reason as historically accumulated in developed social institutions—including an unwritten constitution, practices of representation, and dispositions notably of compromise. De Tocqueville —59 was probably the most Burkean among 19 th century Continental conservatives in his condemnation of the French Revolution: Our revolutionaries had the same fondness for broad generalisations, cut-and-dried legislative systems, and a pedantic symmetry; the same contempt for hard facts; the same taste for reshaping institutions on novel, ingenious, original lines…[for reconstructing] the entire system instead of trying to rectify its faulty parts.

John Gray argues that Conservatives have sometimes disdained theoretical reflection on political life, implying that political knowledge is…best left inarticulate, uncorrupted by rationalist systematising. Hegel — Rousseau put forward the will as the principle of the state, a principle which has thought not only as its form [but also] its content, and which is in fact thinking itself. Franco 3 The contemporary consensus sees Hegel as attempting to synthesise liberalism and conservatism. Cristi —20, While Hegel does not appeal to non-human natural law or providential order, he attempts to reconcile human reason with historical laws and institutions: For Hegel, unlike Burke, the political order must ultimately be justified to human reason, although not in the individualistic manner that typifies Enlightenment rationalism.

Hegel thus synthesises the universal and the particular: The essence of the modern state is that the universal should be linked with the complete freedom of particularity and the well-being of individuals…the personal knowledge and volition of the particular individuals who must retain their rights…Only when both moments are present in full measure can the state be regarded as…truly organised.

He declared that the consequences of the heroic medicines recommended by the Revolutionists [are] far more dreadful than the disease. Thus Gray argues that right-wing thought in the USA is almost exclusively neo-conservative and libertarian, with a virtual absence…of anything comparable to European conservatism…United States conservative thought is merely an indigenous variation on classical liberal themes of limited government, individualism and economic progress [reflecting the] near-ubiquity in American intellectual culture of individualist, universalist and Enlightenment themes.

Hayward notes, with exasperation, that rather than insisting that Sidgwick should be classified as this or that…it is extremely difficult to classify him at all. But in our actual imperfect world Every reform of an imperfect practice or institution is likely to be unfair to someone …To change the rules in the middle of the game, even when those rules were not altogether fair, will disappoint the honest expectations of those whose prior commitments and life plans were made in genuine reliance on the…old rules.

These are very Burkean themes. As Gray puts it, For Oakeshott, human knowledge is not the mother of practice, but only its stepchild…an exfoliation from [practices] that we have inherited…When we theorise our practices, we are discerning coherences within them, not imposing form without any set of abstract principles.

Gray , Other Internet Resources In his book of essays Rationalism in Politics , Oakeshott is concerned with how the rationalist conception of knowledge has operated to the detriment of practice. Oakeshott is a Burkean particularist sceptic, for whom politics concerns people developing ways of living together in light of their history and traditions, not driven by universal extrinsic goals such as equality or elimination of poverty: In political activity…men sail a boundless and bottomless sea: there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.

However, Gamble adds, that disposition gains substance from its connection with national ways of life and traditions: For Oakeshott, the past conceived in this way is intensely liberating because it is a repository of a wealth of practical knowledge, which is needed to live the good life. He rejects post-Hobbesian contractualism, which presupposes shared institutions and a conception of human freedom which could not have their origin in a social contract which they serve to make possible.

Communitarian critique As we saw, established power that originates in revolution poses a problem for conservatism. As Gamble puts it, Oakeshott rejects the universal claims of liberalism, because he is only interested in claims that are grounded in English political experience.

The great American charters of the late 18 th century are, for him, abridgements of British political experience, solidified into an eternal document. Gamble Bentham and—on some views—Burke seem to conceive only of legal rights; but if one can make sense of moral obligation, one can make sense of abstract rights. For Marx, in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte , tradition is a dead weight: Men make their own history, but [not] under circumstances chosen by themselves…The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.


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While Lenin aimed to impose a socialist blueprint through a vanguard party of specialists, for his Marxist critics Luxemburg and Kollontai, revolutionary tasks are unknowable in advance: Given the uncertainty of the endeavour, a plurality of experiments and initiatives will best reveal which lines of attack are fruitful…[and produce] a creative, conscious…and empowered working class. Scott —9 On this view, radical change need not involve a fixed blueprint.

D Broad, it has two sides: The more worthy side [rational scepticism] [says] that social problems are so very complex that there is always a strong probability that some factor has been overlooked in any scheme of change…The less respectable side [mental inertia] is the dislike of novelty as such. He continues: Rational scepticism, as a motive for rejecting a scheme that offers to remove admitted evils, involves two applications of probability.

Broad Broad is alluding to the fact that every philosophical standpoint must confront the problem of how to treat its own defining claims, by its own lights. Cultural conservatism and conservation Especially since the advent of green politics, there have been conservatives advocates for ecological conservation. Cohen 15, Other Internet Resources Conservatism is a relatively expensive taste, because it sacrifices value, in order not to sacrifice things that have value. Most English parish churches of medieval foundation were not built according to a single design, but developed by addition and subtraction; in the Middle Ages there was no profession of architect, and apparently little idea of an intentional, uniform schema generated prior to construction: A church building is inherently conservative, and except for the extraordinary intervention, changed very slowly.

Stanbury and Raguin , Other Internet Resources The parallel with conservative political thought is suggested by Scruton in his discussion of public space Scruton ; see also Hamilton, forthcoming.

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Bibliography Abel, C. Anderson, P. Appiah, K. Arnold, M. Archer, J. Ashford, N. Aughey, A. Jones, and W. Beiser, F. Beveridge, C. Botwinick, A. Boucher, D. Bourke, R. Broad, C. Burke, E.

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Pocock ed. Cambridge, MA: Hackett. Canavan, F. Churchill, W. Claeys, G. Clark, J. Cobban, A. White ed. IV , London, Collini, S. Schultz ed. Cowling, M. Craig, D. Cressy, D. Cristi, F. Dancy, J. Deane, S. De Tocqueville, A. Disraeli, B. Duncan, G. Dwan, D. Insole ed. Dyer, C.