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On What Grounds Have Conservatives Supported Tradition and Continuity?


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On what grounds have conservatives supported tradition and continuity?
“A state without the means of some change is without the means of conservatism.” This is the idea, quoted from Burke, that conservatism is not opposed to change, only radical reform. Conservatism developed out of the desire to avoid revolutions such as the one in France and was a reaction to the growing pace of political, social and economic change. The term “conservatism” comes from the word “conserve” which was derived from the Latin “conservare”; to keep and guard. A prominent core theme in conservative ideology is that of tradition, continuity and preservation. These underpinning concepts refer to the ideas, practices and institutions that have been inherited from an earlier period. However, as UK conservatism has been based rather heavily on the ideas of Edmund Burke, there is a general willingness to ‘change in order to conserve’ rather than a blind resistance to change itself.
One way in which the majority of conservatives support tradition is through the maintenance of the aforementioned institutions and practices which have been ‘tried and tested’ over a long period of time. This, in a way, almost reflects Darwinism and ‘natural selection’, in the belief that the institutions that have in fact survived thus far have done so because they have been found of value and to function sufficiently. Therefore it is considered that they ought to be preserved for the benefit of the current living society and future generations. Institutions such as schools, communities, religious groups, firms etc. are considered to give shape and meaning to humans, imprinting different values in each one. Institutions are also thought to trap and store knowledge, linking to the accumulated wisdom of past experiences, which is influenced by UK novelist G.K Chesterton. “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes: our ancestors. It is a democracy of the dead.” An example of this idea is the UK monarchy. Some conservatives believe that it should be preserved as it embodies historical wisdom, which we should respect. This shows reasonable strong support towards tradition in conservatives.
For other conservatives, tradition may reflect their religion. These conservatives uphold the idea of change as they believe that the world is fashioned by God, and so traditional customs and practices in society are regarded as ‘God given’. Nevertheless, since the 18th century, conservatives have come to the understanding that preservation will not always reflect the will of God. For example the introduction of new traditions, such as free elections and universal suffrage, in place of old ones has shown that these changes are man-made rather than ‘God given’. Modern fundamentalists, in spite of this, still believe that God’s wishes have been revealed to mankind in religious texts and still withhold the religious objection the change. In general, this perception shows that there is still a deep-seated support for tradition in conservatism, although this is understood to be limited because as old traditions are replaced by new ones as historical change must accelerate.
Conservatives also venerate tradition because it generates a sense of identity for both the individual and society. Established customs are easier for individuals for recognise as they feel more familiar with them. This reassuring and belonging creates a feeling of ‘rootedness’ which is strengthened through the fact that these practices have stood through history. Change, on the other hand, is not so well known, and may invoke emotions unsafeness and insecurity, hence jeopardising one’s happiness. Tradition, for that reason, encompasses recognisable and known customs which have been practiced for generations and generates this feeling of belonging. This is why conservatives continue to support tradition on this ground.
In conclusion, conservatives value tradition for the main reason that it provides the surest guide to action. Conservatives tend to choose to keep with more comfortable and known practices, avoiding uncertainty. They also prefer to keep to “tried and tested” institutions. Conversely, some do take into account that new traditions must be introduced at some point, as a country must develop. “We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature.” – Edmund Burke decided that a rational study of the family structure (younger generations learning from their elders) would result in the theory based on man’s role and instincts in the world; natural law - ensuing social and personal binding rules and moral behaviour - individual change.

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