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Conservatism is a political and social philosophy promoting traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. The central tenets of conservatism include tradition, organic society, hierarchy, authority, and property rights. Conservatives seek to preserve a range of institutions such as religion, parliamentary government, and property rights, with the aim of emphasizing social stability and continuity. The more traditional elements—reactionaries—oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were".

The first established use of the term in a political context originated in 1818 with François-René de Chateaubriand during the period of Bourbon Restoration that sought to roll back the policies of the French Revolution. Historically associated with right-wing politics, the term has since been used to describe a wide range of views. There is no single set of policies regarded as conservative because the meaning of conservatism depends on what is considered traditional in a given place and time. Thus conservatives from different parts of the world—each upholding their respective traditions—may disagree on a wide range of issues. Edmund Burke, an 18th-century politician who opposed the French Revolution but supported the American Revolution, is credited as one of the main theorists of conservatism in Great Britain in the 1790s.

According to Quintin Hogg, the chairman of the British Conservative Party in 1959: "Conservatism is not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society, and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement of human nature itself". In contrast to the tradition-based definition of conservatism, some political theorists such as Corey Robin define conservatism primarily in terms of a general defense of social and economic inequality. From this perspective, conservatism is less an attempt to uphold traditional institutions and more, "a meditation on—and theoretical rendition of—the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back".

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Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797) was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party.

He is mainly remembered for his support of the cause of the American Revolutionaries, and for his later opposition to the French Revolution. The latter led to his becoming the leading figure within the conservative faction of the Whig party, which he dubbed the "Old Whigs", in opposition to the pro–French Revolution "New Whigs", led by Charles James Fox.

Burke was praised by both conservatives and liberals in the 19th century. Since the 20th century, he has generally been viewed as the philosophical founder of modern Conservatism, as well as a representative of classical liberalism.

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Therefore I trace the peculiar unity of the everyday political philosophy of the nineteenth century to the success with which it harmonised diversified and warring schools and united all good things to a single end. Hume and Paley, Burke and Rousseau, Godwin and Malthus, Cobbett and Huskisson, Bentham and Coleridge, Darwin and the Bishop of Oxford, were all, it was discovered, preaching practically the same thing - individualism and laissez-faire. This was the Church of England and those her apostles, whilst the company of the economists were there to prove that the least deviation into impiety involved financial ruin.


These reasons and this atmosphere are the explanations, we know it or not - and most of us in these degenerate days are largely ignorant in the matter - why we feel such a strong bias in favour of laissez-faire, and why state action to regulate the value of money, or the course of investment, or the population, provokes such passionate suspicions in many upright breasts. We have not read these authors; we should consider their arguments preposterous if they were to fall into our hands. Nevertheless we should not, I fancy, think as we do, if Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Paley, Adam Smith, Bentham, and Miss Martineau had not thought and written as they did. A study of the history of opinion is a necessary preliminary to the emancipation of the mind. I do not know which makes a man more conservative - to know nothing but the present, or nothing but the past.

— John Maynard Keynes, The End of Laissez-Faire (1926)

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At first the Moderate Party of Sweden was clearly nationalist and staunchly conservative. The importance of a strong defense was underlined and other societal institutions embraced by the party were the monarchy and the state of law. The party held initially a protectionist view towards the economy, tariffs were widely supported as well as interventionist economical measures such as agricultural subsidies. In the defence policy crisis in 1914, which overturned the parliamentary Liberal government, the party sided with king Gustav V of Sweden, but stopped short of accepting a rightist government by royal appointment, instead opting for an independent-conservative "war cabinet" under Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, eventually overturned in favor of a Liberal-Social democratic majority coalition government and breakthrough of parliamentary rule, albeit reluctantly embraced by the right.

Credit: Raphael Saulus

Did you know...

  • ... that Norwegian botanist and politician Olaf Alfred Hoffstad taught at Sandefjord Upper Secondary School for almost 43 years?

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