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To What Extent Do Conservatives Believe in Traditon and Continuity

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Submitted By Becka158
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To what extent do conservatives believe in tradition and continuity?

* Tradition refers to ideas, practices or institutions that have endured over time and been inherited from earlier periods. Its very nature creates continuity between the past, present and future. The very name ‘conservatism’ suggests that followers of the ideology believe in the maintenance of tradition and the preservation of continuity. * There are certainly numerous examples in which it is evident that conservatives believe in tradition and continuity; its very development was based on preserving the pre-Puritan traditions. * Despite it being a fundamental part of the ideology, however, history dictates that conservatives have on numerous occasions abandoned such belief in favour of realistic pragmatism, * Such as Disraeli’s identification of the Two Nations and the Conservative government of 1950, following the establishment of the National Health Service in 1946, chose to maintain this popular institution regardless of conservatives originally favouring the traditional method of private healthcare. * It can even be argued that such pragmatism has created a modern Conservative party that bares little, if no resemblance of, conservative ideology; whereas tradition conservatives stressed on tradition, the New Right and modern conservatism has rejected this notion. * The belief in tradition and continuity was given great importance by traditional conservatives. The original conservative thinkers regarded tradition as reflecting religious faith, fashioned by God, meaning traditional institutions constitute ‘natural law’, and it would be blasphemous for this tradition to be broken. * Most traditional conservatives by the Enlightenment and afterwards disregarded this as the reason for the belief in tradition. Thinkers such as Edmund Burke believed tradition to be the key to social order, and therefore the maintenance of which prevents such chaos as Burke predicted would follow the upheaval of all French values and institutions during the French Revolution. * He claimed “No generation should ever be so rash as to consider itself superior to its predecessors”, overtly stating his belief in tradition and continuity being the preservation of the wisdom of the past that created the society the new generation lives in. * G.K. Chesterton described this as the democracy of the dead, or as Burke put it, democracy should be “a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born”. Tradition provides this continuity to bind all three. * Conservatives are also naturally suspicious of the pure reason behind schemes of radical reform, as Stanley Baldwin put it: “You will find in politics that you are much exposed to the attribution of false motive." * Traditional conservatives believe it is human nature to prefer the sense of identity tradition gives a society through established customs and practices and change is feared as an uncertain and insecure journey into the unknown. * By the twentieth century, although this belief in tradition remained in the hearts of conservatives, pragmatism was favoured. This move towards pragmatism had begun at the end of the nineteenth century * This was seen through such notions as Benjamin Disraeli’s identification of Two Nations that need to be joined to prevent revolution. * Following the Second World War, a consensus of socialist tendencies had developed, which led to reforms in healthcare and social policy that the conservatives pragmatically adapted to in order to have some hope of electoral victory. * By the time the New Right developed in the 1970s, the term consensus was one sneered at by conservatives. Margaret Thatcher described consensus as “the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies” describing the people in her party who believed in consensus as “Quislings, as traitors”. * In many ways, the New Right upheld traditional values that had been disregarded during the era of consensus, whilst simultaneously destroying it. Neo-conservative values firmly believed in the traditional forms of a nuclear family and a ‘tough on crime’ policy. * Economic libertarianism can also be regarded as a traditional form of economics, dating from the late eighteenth century with the publication of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. However, the attempts to fuse neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism created radical and reactionary features as well as tradition. * The New Right’s radicalism saw the ‘roll back’ of interventionist government, which in itself was a conservative move forward to the traditional belief in government interfering as little as possible with the lives of the individual. * However, the rational theories and abstract principles of the New Right such as economic monetarism, privatisation and opposition to the ‘dependency culture’ dismiss tradition. * Modern conservatives also disregard tradition in favour of pragmatism, hence why David Cameron described himself as “the heir to Blair” – he was more liberal that conservative in his beliefs. * One clear example of Cameron’s lack of belief in tradition is seen in his claim “I support gay marriage because I am a conservative.” True conservatives who believe in tradition and continuity do not support gay marriage as it disregards the religious traditions and is a radical change in society. * In conclusion, it is clear that the fundamental belief in traditional conservatives is tradition and therefore continuity. According to Michael Oakeshott, “To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown”. That is the essence of conservatism and cannot be denied. * However, modern conservatives have recognised that purely believing in the preservation of tradition will not lead to electoral success, therefore have turned towards a pragmatic approach to politics. * Even Oakeshott concedes that modern conservatives prefer innovations which appear to grow out of the present in response to a specific defect, such as suffrage for the working man in the nineteenth century and suffrage for women in the early twentieth. To a modern conservative, slow change is better than revolutionary. This is how traditional principles and institutions can be maintained in a way that also benefits and improves society.

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