Characteristics of conservatism
What with our stern opposition to the radicalism of the Soviets, however, and our national abhorrence of collectivism in all its varieties, a good many Americans now doubt very much whether they care to be called liberals or radicals. The liberals, for a good while, have been drifting leftward toward their radical cousins; and liberalism, in recent years, has come to imply an attachment to the centralized state and the dreary impersonality of Huxley’s Brave New World or Orwell’s 1984. Men and women who sense that they are not liberals or radicals are beginning to ask themselves just what they believe, and what they ought to call themselves. The system of ideas opposed to liberalism and radicalism is the conservative political philosophy.
What is conservatism?
Modern conservatism took form about the beginning of the French Revolution, when far-seeing men in England and America perceived that if humanity is to conserve the elements in civilization that make life worth living, some coherent body of ideas must resist the leveling and destructive impulse of fanatic revolutionaries. In England, the founder of true conservatism was Edmund Burke, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France turned the tide of British opinion and influenced incalculably the leaders of society in the Continent and in America. In the newly established United States, the fathers of the Republic, conservative by training and by practical experience, were determined to shape constitutions which should guide their posterity in enduring ways of justice and freedom. Our American War of Independence had not been a real revolution, but rather a separation from England; statesmen of Massachusetts and Virginia had no desire to turn society upside down. In their writings, especially in the works of John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, we find a sober and tested conservatism founded upon an understanding of history and human nature. The Constitution which the leaders of that generation drew up has proved to be the most successful conservative device in all history.
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