Conservatism is often labelled as a ‘disposition’, ‘tradition’, or even a set of kneejerk reactions, rather than an ideology. Its suspicion of grand theorising has lent itself to this characterisation, but in this book leading political theorist Edmund Neill challenges this view.
He argues that that conservatism is better identified as an ideology, albeit one that, rather than putting forward positive values like ‘liberty’ or ‘equality’, conceptualizes human conduct as being partially dependent on forces beyond human volition, and prioritises cautiously managing change. He proceeds to chart the evolution of conservative thought from the French Revolution to the present, examining how conservatives responded to disruptions to traditional order across the 19th and 20th centuries, including the Enlightenment, the growth of free market capitalism, two world wars, and the creation of the welfare state. Drawing on examples from Britain, France and the United States, Neill concludes with some reflections on the challenges (and opportunities) that contemporary populism presents for conservatism.
This accomplished primer is essential reading for any student or scholar working in political theory and political philosophy, especially those with particular interest in ideologies and conservatism.