The word principle is defined by the 2011 Concise Oxford English Dictionary as:
A fundamental truth or proposition serving as the foundation for belief or action
Is there then a fundamental truth serving as the foundation for Right wing belief ?
Right and Left wing worldviews come from very different perspectives with quite different terms of reference for their thinking.
The Right’s approach has clearly to do with present and past while the Left is looking for something to come which is lacking in the present. The Left looks to Ideals while the Right is founded in what we know, what is certain, what is experienced.
This writer would therefore characterise the fundamental Principle which defined Right wing and Left wing politics as follows.
Reality is the reference point for Right wing politics, and Experience provides its terms of reference.
Idealism is the reference point for Left wing politics and radical Ideology provides its terms of reference
The dominant ideology on the Left is Socialism, usually the authoritarian Marxist variety, not the libertarian form called Anarchism. Such ideologies give structure, form and terms of reference for their Ideal.
It is essential to understand that the terms “Left” and “Right” in politics derive from a parliamentary context, ie a context of debate and consensual decision making. They do not derive from an extra parliamentary context: their use by today’s media in reference to extra parliamentary activity is a practice which is neither technically correct nor helpful to understanding politics properly.
The first political thinker and practitioner to elaborate the importance and meaning of English Right wing thinking in the modern era was the 18th century British politician, Edmund Burke [1729-1796]
In writing his Reflections on the Revolution in France,  Edmund Burke explains and defines the thinking behind Modern Conservatism.
Burke’s Reflections demonstrates that the state of society and the liberty of the individual are fundamental concerns for the Right. His intention in Reflections is to show how the English constitution and culture have proven value for good order and the securing of people’s Rights – whereas the revolutionary situation in France endangered the very Rights the Revolutionaries sought.
Burke’s comments on the French Revolution were thoroughly pertinent, just as they were about the American colonies prior to the War of Independence, about the questionable East India Company rule in India, and about his native Ireland.
Burke’s analysis is of inestimable value, and he is rightly seen as elaborating a philosophy of modern Conservatism. Reflections on the Revolution in France should therefore be read in its entirety – see link below.
Edmund Burke describes a conservatism which values the experience of the ages, eschewing radical departures, and taking its worldview from Christianity, not from the Materialism and Rationalism of Enlightenment thinking.
Edmund Burke wrote:
“I wish my countryman rather to recommend to our neighbours [ie the French] the example of the British Constitution, than to take models from them for the improvement of our own. In the former they have got an invaluable treasure. They are not, I think, without some causes of apprehension and complaint; but these they do not owe to their constitution, but to their own conduct.
I think our happy situation owing to our constitution; but owing to the whole of it, and not to any part singly; owing in a great measure to what we have left standing in our several reviews and reformations, as well as to what we have altered or superadded.
Our people will find employment enough for a truly patriotic, free, and independent spirit, in guarding what they possess from violation.
I would not exclude alteration neither; 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 as nearly as possible in the style of the building.
A politic caution, a guarded circumspection, a moral rather than a complexional timidity were among the ruling principles of our forefathers in their most decided conduct.
Not being illuminated with the light of which the gentlemen of France tell us they have got so abundant a share, they acted under a strong impression of the ignorance and fallibility of mankind. He [ie God] that made them thus fallible, rewarded them for having in their conduct attended to their nature.
Let us imitate their caution, if we wish to deserve their fortune, or to retain their bequests. Let us add, if we please, but let us preserve what they have left; and standing on the ground of the British constitution, let us be satisfied to admire rather than attempt to follow in their desperate flights the aëronauts of France.
Cited from Paragraph 398 in my edition of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France titled “CORE CONSERVATISM: Edmund Burke’s Landmark Definition” published by Westbow Press and available from Amazon at
“CORE CONSERVATISM” provides
- an accessible version of Edmund Burke’s book Reflections,
- an Introduction,
- Edited Highlights of his political philosophy and
- my personal distillation of Burke’s thinking to 3 Principles and 10 Key Tenets:
Those 3 principles and 10 tenets are summarised here as:
The principle of Perspective is historical: therefore the paradigm for political theory and practice should be actual experience, not abstract Ideals or ideology.
The primary principle of Belief is the sanctity of individual life which is made in the image of God: therefore the person and property of the responsible individual are inviolate.
The principle of Governance is Stability: change or reform must address “a great grievance” and aim for comprehensive conservation of existing arrangements.
These 3 fundamental points of reference give rise to more specific principles or tenets in Edmund Burke’s Reflections, which may be stated briefly as:
Tenets of Principle TWO
- identity is derived from family, local networks like churches, tradition and nation; society is organic, local and liberal – it is not ideological, Statist, totalitarian
- the individual is a valued, responsible, independent member of society and yet can fail; individual rights must be protected by the State, not threatened; sanctions against lawless behaviour must be effective and ensured by the State
- traditional freedoms are our birthright to be passed on intact to coming generations; the State must conserve, not abuse those rights
- personal property rights are inviolable and inalienable; no government has the right to undermine them
- law and order is essential to safeguard all individuals in their person, liberty and property
- exchange of property is voluntary and private; the State should support, not abuse this
- “all persons possessing any portion of power … … …. are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society” [paragraph 151 the Catlin edition of Edmund Burke’s Reflections]
Tenets of Principle THREE
- “good order is the foundation of all good things” which the government must ensure for all, in all ways including economic stability
- government ensures its own stability and efficacy by operating within Constitutional constraints and with prudence in its own finances
- government must comprise composite and counter-balancing institutions, such as an independent Judiciary and having a second parliamentary chamber
Any policy proposal claiming to accord with Conservatism should therefore be assessed against such Principles
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