My aim in this piece is not to convince you to become a conservative but to hopefully give you a better understanding of why people are conservatives. Let me say up-front: I’ve voted for the Tories only once in the last five years. I’ve voted for a wide range of parties, such as Labour, UKIP and the Brexit Party. My party political allegiance is varied, but my beliefs are a little more certain.
First, we must define what is meant by conservatism. Conservatism is an instinct for freedom and a desire to preserve what you love and to leave something for the next generation. I think I first heard this definition in a talk by the late Roger Scruton and whilst I’m entirely paraphrasing what he said, the quote catches what is at the heart of conservative philosophy. It starts not as an ideological conviction that free markets are great, limited government is better than a big state or that the individual is sacrosanct. It may lead to these views of course, but they ultimately arise from this core instinct.
To understand how I came to conservatism, we must go back to when I was about twelve years old where my life changed in many ways. I grew up in a working-class area and had an average childhood, which all changed when I moved into care.
This point in my life brought a world of new experiences which included bureaucracy. Whilst I knew some of the nicest people, I began to hate the idea of micro-managerialism. Out of that experience grew one of the major principles of my politics: freedom. It is this first belief that helped shape some of the other principles I hold dear.
The first principle is liberty. By this, I mean freedom of speech, thought, expression and conscience. I believe these freedoms are essential to humans as they are essential to us all as a species. These freedoms are vital to how humans have interacted over our long existence.
The second principle is embedded individualism, which sees the individual as foundational, but understands the individual to be part of a greater community. This does not mean the individual is the only entity that matters and sees human beings as components of communitarianism. Conservatism adheres to a rejection of many forms of collectivist thinking.
The third principle is Burkeanism. This builds upon the idea of Burke's social contract. This can be summed up as:
‘the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born’.
Michael Oakeshott makes reference to this important quote to explain why conservatives trust the tried and tested conventions, actions and institutions. In short, Burkeanism is about understanding our link to history.
I could mention several other principles and views I hold: the belief in the nuclear family, traditional marriage, pro-life and monarchism. But a lot of those would each take a different article to elaborate and explain. Maybe I will touch on them in the future.
I do not see Toryism as conservatism and so the two, while sometimes overlapping, are not necessarily the same. I will finish by recommending two books: Conservatism: Ideas in Profile and How to Be a Conservative. These will deepen your understanding of a great tradition.
Bradley is a Burkean Conservative and Associate Editor at Liberal Base. His interest are in tribalism, relationship of liberty and order, western political parties and the rise of China.You can follow him on twitter @burkeansmithite