What is "Conservative"?

Matt Lewis
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Posted: May 21, 2008 3:10 PM
In a thought-provoking piece, Austin Bramwell advances the notion that we need to do a better job of defining conservatism.  In fact, he has come up with a definition he believes to be superior to "conventional definitions":

Conservatism is the defense of legitimacy wherever it happens to exist. “Legitimacy” here is defined in the empirical, Weberian sense: that is, an institution is legitimate if and only if the opinion has become widespread that it is right (for whatever reason or lack thereof) to obey it. The conservative, in short, cultivates obedience to existing institutions. This definition, I submit, has all the advantages of the conventional definitions, none of their defects, and some important advantages of its own.

Bramell's peice is well worth reading.  But I think his definition lacks a few of the vitally-essential ingredients Russell Kirk long ago established: 

Kirk developed six "canons" of conservatism, which Russello (2004) described as follows:

  1. A belief in a transcendent order, which Kirk described variously as based in tradition, divine revelation, or natural law;
  2. An affection for the "variety and mystery" of human existence;
  3. A conviction that society requires orders and classes that emphasize "natural" distinctions;
  4. A belief that property and freedom are closely linked;
  5. A faith in custom, convention, and prescription, and
  6. A recognition that innovation must be tied to existing traditions and customs, which entails a respect for the political value of prudence.