The word ‘Institute’ originally meant:
a treatise or summary of principles ##
This personal blog is titled Conservatism Institute because I endeavour to articulate a Conservative viewpoint by conscious and constant reference to explicit principles of political Conservatism. This is distinctive.
Much conservative and right wing comment or policy is founded on the vague prejudices or instincts of conservatives. Indeed, the conservative intelligentsia generally tends to call Conservatism an approach, describing aspects rather than defining a philosophy.
The Oxford English Dictionary## has this general definition for the word “conservative”:
“averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values“
and with specific reference to politics, the OED says:
“favouring free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas”
This is descriptive but tends to reflect today’s intellectual preoccupation with a materialist mindset.
Critics and opponents dismiss anything Right wing as unjustifiable prejudice which lacks a coherent system of belief or philosophy. That perception reflects their worldview; a perception founded in the rationalism and materialism of the Enlightenment mindset; a perception which seeks to treat human behaviour as subject to particular scientific laws. Hence the modern tendency to view the Humanities as Social Sciences.
But Conservatism is explicable as a philosophy. It has principles and doctrine; it has perspective and paradigm.
Modern Conservatism in the English tradition was first explained by the Irishman, Edmund Burke in his landmark statement titled: Reflections on the Revolution in France published in 1790. Edmund Burke was the first English speaking thinker to take the measure of the meaning of the Revolution in France and to react against such drastic change. In doing so, he not only identified the serious problems emerging, he demonstrated the flexibility and value of the traditional constitution, culture and religion of England in conserving the true substance of rights and liberties – i.e. 13th century Magna Carta and the 1689 Bill of Rights.
In order to dispel the widespread ignorance and misunderstanding of politics today, it helps to understand what the political terms “Right” and “Left” actually mean.
Firstly, Right wing and Left wing are parliamentary terms derived from the French national Assembly at the end of the 18th century. They should apply, therefore, to those who choose to talk about their differences and come to a consensus to resolve them.
This means that Right and Left wing politicians – properly so called – share the values of respect for difference of opinion and perspective; are willing to weigh the arguments, rationally; are willing to compromise their own position in order to achieve an agreement for the benefit of all. Such politicians therefore reject violence and its associated mindset.
Secondly, the terms ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ derive from the position in which representatives in the original French National Assembly sat before the president of the Assembly. That semi-circle seating arrangement persists in parliamentary assemblies today, as in France and the European Union.
Those seated on the Right favour tradition.
- those sat farthest to the Right want to restore a past which no longer exists – Far Right
- those on the Right want no change whatsoever from the status quo – reactionary
- those sat to the Right of the Centre line before the president’s seat are prepared to entertain change, provided change conserves the traditional system as a whole – Centre-Right or Conservative
Such ‘reform to conserve’ was defined by Edmund Burke in his classic statement of modern Conservatism, Reflections on the Revolution in France published in 1790. That is also the position of this website.
Those seated on the Left are often referred to as “progressives”. But that begs the question as to what constitutes progress – in what form and in what direction ?
Those who sit just Left of Centre seek reform, not Revolution of existing arrangements. Those sitting further to the Left are more radical and indeed revolutionary in seeking to change society to align our world with their particular Ideology. Their thinking is invariably Marxist inspired, Socialist, even Communist. Green groups always sit on the Left. Many ‘Greens’ are quite far Left because they seek radical changes in the way economy and society function. But note their instinct is right wing – they seek to maintain the integrity of our planet, conserving its natural functioning against the waste of resources and pollution of the environmnent.
You may wonder whether the Right/Left explanation of politics is too simplistic and unrealistic. That is a significant question. We must recognise that other models exist to explain politics to our understanding.
Authoritarian versus Libertarian is another way to view and analyse political ideas and practice. Significantly, however, the authoritarian/ libertarian conflict today is largely aligned with the Left/ Right divide. The Left is dominated by the authoritarian thinking of Marxism in which the State both introduces and sustains fundamental and extensive change in accordance with a radical, Ideological Agenda.
The Right in the English speaking world stands for maximising individual responsibility and liberty, limiting the intervention of an all powerful corporate interest like the State. The Right opposes the top-down, pervasive tendencies of the State to intrude on every area of the individual’s life. It opposes the State’s proclivity to requisition yet more private resources which inevitably extends the scale and scope of bureaucracy.
This reflects the distinctive English tradition expressed in Magna Carta 1215 and the Bill of Rights 1689. It contrasts with historical developments in mainland Europe over the last 500 years. That in turn explains right wing opposition to the European Union Super State Project.
The Right is therefore also concerned about the Corporatist collusion of Big Business and Big State. This alliance rigs regulations and distorts free markets; it results in unfair tax advantages and subsidies from public funds to finance corporate concerns. Right wing thinkers call this counterfeit “crony capitalism”. It undermines the fundamental principle of equality before the law which forbids the strong to abuse their position at the expense of the weak.
That principle goes back to Magna Carta in 1215 and is intrinsic in Christianity.
Big State-Big Business collusion to advance corporate control is in fact a feature of Fascist economics and undermines free market capitalism. It is a serious threat to a free, fair and democratic society.
This unholy alliance was identified by Edmund Burke. In his Reflections, he describes the godless, unscrupulous money men prepared to make common cause with interventionist progressives in order to maximise personal profits. This unholy alliance is evident in the European Union project and explains much of the concern expressed in the Brexit Referendum vote of June 23rd 2016.
The restoration of national sovereignty to the United Kingdom by withdrawing from the European Union is a far Right action according to the definition I give above. It means that the UK is restoring the Sovereignty which existed before its accession to the European Project in 1973. Does that make it “extreme” ? It was after all a democratic vote on a straightforward choice – Remain or Leave the European Union. For many in the Centre and on the Left of politics, the result was an outrageous return to a repressive past.
It was, however, a simple democratic choice to restore the power of national institutions against an ideologically based international bureaucracy. That it can be viewed as Far Right tells us something about the inherent weakness of the Right and Left model. After all, those voting Remain sought to maintain or conserve the Constitutional status quo ! But that status quo reflected the triumph of Left wing ideas over Right wing concerns for national traditions, culture and identity. It demonstrates that the political Centre point of reference had moved significantly towards the Far Left; that the perception and practice of politics had shifted radically beyond the ideological dividing line between Right and Left thinking.
This shift has been evident in much of the policy and practice adopted by the Conservative party in Britain over the last 50 years. And it explains the constant threat to that party from right wing outrage against abject accommodation of alien philosophy. Indeed, Theresa May as Conservative Prime Minister brought her party to the brink of annihilation in the Spring of 2019 because she persisted in this Left ward accommodation. Boris Johnson’s election as Leader of the Conservative party in July 2019 and subsequently as outright winner of the December 2019 General Election with an absolute 80 seat majority confirmed the need of the Conservative party to shift itself back to the Right of British politics.
Despite the fundamental question about where the Centre point belongs, the Right/Left model persists in general usage because it is grounded in historical fact. It remains a convenient shorthand for delineating two fundamentally distinct and persistent approaches to political understanding – two approaches which explain the ideas and associated mindsets which actually influence today’s political agenda.
This platform seeks to explain contemporary politics according to a principled, traditional Conservatism – a Conservatism which rejects the false absorption of Liberal/Left political correctness as if it were genuine adaptatation to necessary change. It is not ! Such counterfeit adaptation is in reality surrender to a form of belief which is eradicating our traditional liberties and identity, and imposing a completely alien philosophy on western society – a philosophy which Edmund Burke characterised as “the spirit of atheistical fanaticism“. It is to Edmund Burke we must look for the proper conception of how Conservatives should view the need to adapt. He wrote:
“But even when I changed it should be to preserve. I should be led to my remedy by a great grievance. In what I did, I should follow the example of our ancestors. I would make the reparation [repair] as nearly as possible in the style of the building.”
Graham R. Catlin is the author of Conservatism Institute. He has published an accessible version of Edmund Burke’s classic work on Conservative thought, Reflections on the Revolution in France in “CORE CONSERVATISM: Edmund Burke’s Landmark Definition”.
“CORE CONSERVATISM” provides an Introduction, Contents page, Edited Highlights of Burke’s philosophy in Reflections, and a distillation of Burke’s doctrine to 3 Principles and 10 essential Tenets of modern Conservatism in the English tradition.
## Concise Oxford English Dictionary 2011 edition
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