What is conservatism? History, ideology and party

European Journal of Political Theory 17 (4):449-475 (2018)
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Is there a political philosophy of conservatism? A history of the phenomenon written along sceptical lines casts doubt on the existence of a transhistorical doctrine, or even an enduring conservative outlook. The main typologies of conservatism uniformly trace its origins to opposition to the French Revolution. Accordingly, Edmund Burke is standardly singled out as the ‘father’ of this style of politics. Yet Burke was de facto an opposition Whig who devoted his career to assorted programmes of reform. In restoring Burke to his original milieu, the argument presented here takes issue with 20th-century accounts of conservative ideology developed by such figures as Karl Mannheim, Klaus Epstein and Samuel Huntington. It argues that the idea of a conservative tradition is best seen as a belated construction, and that the notion of a univocal philosophy of conservatism is basically misconceived.



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