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Research: Conservatism


A modern principle
- only developed, and found, in societies where change is commonplace
- developed towards end of enlightenment; reaction against appeals to human nature, e.g. Locke, the Philosophes and Rousseau
- first really emerged in the writings of Burke:
--- An Irishman working in common law in England
--- Respected middle ages and saw a positive role in ritual and tradition
--- Came to this view from law, which is essentially the accumulation of centuries of tweaking traditions
--- Alarmed by French Revolution, 'Rights of Man' and attacks on tradition, e.g. the church and chivalry
--- Saw connections between Locke, the English Revolution of 1688 and the French Revolution of 1792
--- First book was 'Reflections on the Revolution in France'

Understanding of human nature and morality either:
- based upon history and contemporary society (functional, based in practice, rather than rationally justifiable)
- skeptical conservatism denies we can know of 'human nature', nor of morality
- if morality is knowable, it is discovered in common law, as an expression of natural and civil rights

Gradual reform of status quo, rather than radical reform according to some ideal
- G is a specialised skill, and therefore requires training and accumulation of others' part experiences
- unintended consequences of reform
- not dogmatic (e.g. few conservatives still defend slavery)
- intellectuals without property and other interests are dangerous, since they have nothing to lose; stupid aristocrats are therefore deemed better than intelligent academics, for example

Relationships based upon force
- in interest of weak to conceal this in social conventions, e.g. chivalry, attitudes towards women, etc.
- all social arrangements will cause evil to some - necessary evils - so we should accept them


From complexity
- G is very complex. Not one person, nor possibly a whole generation, can fully understand it
- If you don't understand something, you are naturally cautious in tweaking it, in case of unintended consequences
- Therefore only work for minimal changes where the affects can be better predicted

From tacit knowledge:
- tradition incorporates experience, and therefore good practice. As with common law, action should be based upon precedence
- tradition encapsulates the wisdom of all previous generations
- this does seem to justify aristocracy and elitism; Burke defended the elite, unelected, unaccountable judges

From respect for culture:
- Conservatism is pessimistic about human nature, and notes various natural inequalities (e.g. women are weaker)
- Seeks to redress natural inequalities, or soften them, through law, and through respect, chivalry, etc.
- Many prejudices are functional (e.g. chauvanism)
- Society is a contract to which all tacitly consent, embodied in its culture

Major objection: presupposes a relatively healthy society
- provides no guidance nor analysis for dysfunctional societies
- provides no way of ascertaining whether or not certain inequalities are functional