Conservatism is a term used to describe political philosophies that favor tradition and gradual change, where tradition refers to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs. The term is derived from the Latin, com servare, to preserve; "to protect from loss or harm". Since different cultures have different established values, conservatives in different cultures have differing goals. Some conservatives seek to preserve the status quo or to reform society slowly, while others seek to return to the values of an earlier time, the status quo ante.
Conservatism as a political philosophy is difficult to define, encompassing numerous different movements in various countries and time periods; there may sometimes be contradictions between alternative conceptions of conservatism as the ideology of preserving the past, and the contemporary worldwide conception of conservatism as a right-wing political stance. For instance, as one commentator questions, "who are the 'conservatives' in today's Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of modern conservatives such as Margaret Thatcher?"<ref>The Political Compass Home Page</ref>
Samuel Francis defined authentic conservatism as “the survival and enhancement of a particular people and its institutionalized cultural expressions.”<ref>www.samfrancis.net</ref> Roger Scruton calls it “maintenance of the social ecology” and “the politics of delay, the purpose of which is to maintain in being, for as long as possible, the life and health of a social organism.”profam.org Conservatives believe that radical change and unproven beliefs should not be quickly implemented before being tested.
- 1 Development of thought
- 2 Schools of conservatism
- 3 Ideological interaction and influence
- 4 Conservatism in different countries
- 5 See also
- 6 External links
Development of thoughtConservatism has not produced, nor does it tend to produce systematic treatises like Hobbes’ Leviathan or Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. Consequently, what it means to be a conservative today is frequently the subject of debate and a topic muddied by association with various (and often opposing) ideologies or political parties. Scholar R.J. White once put it this way:
"To put conservatism in a bottle with a label is like trying to liquefy the atmosphere … The difficulty arises from the nature of the thing. For conservatism is less a political doctrine than a habit of mind, a mode of feeling, a way of living."<ref>As part of introduction to The Conservative Tradition, ed. R.J. White (London: Nicholas Kaye, 1950)</ref>
Although political thought, from its beginnings, contains many strains that can be retrospectively labeled conservative, it was not until the Age of Reason, and in particular the reaction to events surrounding the French Revolution of 1789, that modern Western conservatism began to rise as a distinct movement. Chanakya in India, Cicero in Rome, Confucius in China, and in France, the counterreformation, all spoke out on the importance of political stability and traditional values. But it was not until Edmund Burke’s polemic Reflections on the Revolution in France that conservatism in the Western world, in its current form, gained its most influential statement of views.
Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke, who argued so forcefully against the French Revolution, also sympathized with some of the aims of the American Revolution. This classical conservative tradition often insists that conservatism has no ideology, in the sense of a utopian program, with some form of master plan. Burke developed his ideas in reaction to the 'enlightened' idea of a society guided by abstract reason. Although he did not use the term, he anticipated the critique of modernism, a term first used at the end of the 19th century by the Dutch religious conservative Abraham Kuyper. Burke was troubled by the Enlightenment, and argued instead for the value of inherited institutions and customs.Reason," but from time-honoured development of the state, piecemeal progress through experience and the continuation of other important societal institutions such as the family and the Church.
"We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and ages. Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek, and they seldom fail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice, and to leave nothing but naked reason; because prejudice, with its reason, has a motive to give action to that reason, and an affection which will give it permanence."
Burke argued that tradition is a much sounder foundation than 'metaphysical abstractions.' Tradition draws on the wisdom of many generations and the tests of time, while "reason" may be a mask for the preferences of one man, and at best represents only the untested wisdom of one generation. Any existing value or institution has undergone the correcting influence of past experience and ought to be respected. Also, Burke claims that man is unable to understand the many ways in which inherited behaviours influence their thinking, so trying to judge society objectively is futile.
However, conservatives do not reject change. As Burke wrote, "A state without the means of change is without the means of its conservation." But they insist that further change be organic, rather than revolutionary. An attempt to modify the complex web of human interactions that form human society, for the sake of some doctrine or theory, runs the risk of running afoul of the iron law of unintended consequences. Burke advocates vigilance against the possibility of moral hazards. For conservatives, human society is something rooted and organic; to try to prune and shape it according to the plans of an ideologue is to invite unforeseen disaster.
Conservatives strongly support the right of property. Carl B. Cone, in Burke and the Nature of Politics,<ref> Carl B. Cone, Burke and the Nature of Politics, University of Kentucky Press, 1957 Template:OCLC </ref> pointed out that this view, expressed as philosophy, also served the interests of the people involved. "As Burke had declared…this law ... encroached upon property rights... . To the eighteenth century Whig, nothing was more sacred than the rights of property, ... the protest could not be entirely frank, and it masked personal interests behind lofty principles. These principles were not hypocritically pronounced, but they did not reveal the financial interests of Rockingham, Burke, and other persons who opposed the East India legislation as members of parliament, as holders of East India stock..."
At the end of the Napoleonic period, the Congress of Vienna marked the beginning of a conservative reaction in Europe against the liberal and nationalist forces unleashed by the French Revolution. Historians Will and Ariel Durant describe the conservative philosophy of the time as "defending the necessity of religion, the wisdom of tradition, the authority of the family, the advantages of legitimate monarchy, and the constant need to maintain political, moral, and economic dikes against the ever-swelling sea of popular ignorance, cupidity, violence, barbarism, and fertility." (Will and Ariel Durant, "The Age of Napoleon", Simon and Schuster, 1975 ISBN 0-671-21988-X ) Vicomte Louis Gabriel Ambroise de Bonald, set forth the principles of French conservatism in Théorie du pouvoir politique et religieux (1796): "absolute monarchy, hereditary aristocracy, patriarchal authority in the family, and the moral and religious sovereignty of the popes over all the kings of Christendom." (Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Napoleon, Simon and Schuster, 1975, ISBN 0-671-21988-X) Along with Louis de Bonald, Joseph de Maistre was the most influential spokesperson for counter-revolutionary and authoritarian conservatism, with the emphasis on monarchy as a guarantee of order in society. The legitimist movement was the political incarnation of this thought.
Schools of conservatism
Cultural conservatism is a philosophy that supports preservation of the heritage of a nation or culture. The culture in question may be as large as Western culture or Chinese civilization or as small as that of Tibet. Cultural conservatives try to adapt norms handed down from the past. The norms may be romantic, like the anti-metric movement that demands the retention of avoirdupois weights and measures in Britain and opposes their replacement with the metric system. They may be institutional: in the West this has included chivalry and feudalism, as well as capitalism, laicité and the rule of law.
According to the subset called social conservatives, the norms may also be moral. For example, in some cultures practices such as homosexuality are considered wrong. In other cultures women who expose their faces or limbs in public are considered immoral, and conservatives in those cultures often support laws to prohibit such practices. Other conservatives take a more positive approach, supporting good samaritan laws, or laws requiring public charity, if their culture considers these acts moral.
Cultural conservatives often argue that old institutions have adapted to a particular place or culture and therefore ought to persevere. Depending on how universalizing (or skeptical) they are, cultural conservatives may or may not accept cultures that differ from their own. Many conservatives believe in a universal morality, but others allow that moral codes may differ from nation to nation, and only try to support their moral code within their own culture. That is, a cultural conservative may doubt whether the broad ideals of French communities would be equally appropriate in Germany.
Religious conservatives seek to preserve the teachings of particular ideologies, sometimes by proclaiming the value of those teachings, at other times seeking to have those teachings given the force of law. Religious conservatism may support, or be supported by, secular customs. In other places or at other times, religious conservatism may find itself at odds with the culture in which the believers reside. In some cultures, there is conflict between two or more different groups of religious conservatives, each strongly asserting both that their view is correct, and that opposing views are wrong.
Conservative governments influenced by religious conservatives may promote broad campaigns for a return to traditional values. Modern examples include the Back to Basics campaign of British Prime Minister, John Major. In the European Union, a conservative campaign sought to constitutionally specify certain conservative values in the proposed European Constitution.
Because many religions preserve a founding text, or at least a set of well-established traditions, the possibility of Radical Religious Conservatism arises. These are radical both in the sense of abolishing the status quo and of a perceived return to the radix or root of a belief. They are ante conservative in their claim to be preserving the belief in its original or pristine form. Radical Religious Conservatism generally sees the status quo as corrupted by abuses, corruption, or heresy. One example of such a movement was the Protestant Reformation.
In Islam, the Salafist movement is often politically and socially radical, and is violently repressed by governments and distrusted by the majority of mainstream Muslims for that reason. Salafism seeks to impose, by force if necessary, its vision of a model Islamic society such as existed at the time of Muhammad's passing from this world and for a short time thereafter. It rejects the later developments of Islamic societies, and can therefore be classified as a radical religious movement.<ref>Salafi Islam, globalsecurity.org
Similar phenomena have arisen in practically all the world's religions, in many cases triggered by the violent cultural collision between the traditional society in question and the modern Western society that has developed throughout the world over the past 500 years. Much of what is labelled as radical religious conservatism in the modern world is in fact an indigenous fusion of traditional religious ideals with modern, European revolutionary philosophy, sometimes Marxist in nature.
...[I]t is to the property of the citizen, and not to the demands of the creditor of the state, that the first and original faith of civil society is pledged. The claim of the citizen is prior in time, paramount in title, superior in equity. The fortunes of individuals, whether possessed by acquisition or by descent or in virtue of a participation in the goods of some community, were no part of the creditor's security, expressed or implied...[T]he public, whether represented by a monarch or by a senate, can pledge nothing but the public estate; and it can have no public estate except in what it derives from a just and proportioned imposition upon the citizens at large.
In other words, a government does not have the right to run up large debts and then throw the burden on the taxpayer; the taxpayers' right not to be taxed oppressively takes precedence even over paying back debts a government may have imprudently undertaken.
Ideological interaction and influence
Many forms of conservatism incorporate elements of other ideologies and philosophies. In turn, conservatism has influence upon them. Most conservatives strongly support the sovereign nation (although that was not so in the 19th century), and patriotically identify with their own nation. Nationalist separatist movements may be both radical and conservative. They appeal to tradition and often emphasise rural life and folkways.
Conservative patriotism is sometimes expressed in the words of American naval hero Stephen Decatur, Jr. who said, "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!" The nation or, at an earlier time, the city state, is seen as a major force safeguarding traditional values and preserving the very life and freedom of its citizens.
Value conservatives in Europe appeal to national values. Burkean conservatives value them for their own sake, because they are the result of long experience, but the patriotic impulse also has a strong emotional appeal, as illustrated by the famous Sir Walter Scott quotation, "Breathes there a man, with soul so dead, who never to himself has said, this is my own, my native land!"
Most patriots appeal to national symbolism - the national flag, national historical icons, founders and emblems, the works of national poets and authors, or the representation of the nation by its artists. Conservatives often express admiration of the patriotic values of duty, and sacrifice.
Conversely, some conservatives say that to defend their national identity, they may need to expose the hypocrisy of an existing regime. For example, G. K. Chesterton responded to Decatur in The Defendant, saying ""My country, right or wrong," is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, "My mother, sober or drunk." Further, paleoconservatives and others say that in this era of the managerial state, there is no clear consensus on what institutions should be conserved; therefore, the term conservative can only mean that any idea or ideology or institution that preserves human rights, and the rights of other sentient beings to exist in peace, is what should be preserved.
Conservatism and economics
The phrases "economic liberal" and "economic conservative" seem to be antonyms, diverging from modern neoliberalism, and classical liberalism in the tradition of Adam Smith.  Some conservatives look to a modified free market order, such as the American System, ordoliberalism, or Friedrich List's National System. The latter view differs from strict laissez-faire in that the state's role is to promote competition while maintaining the national interest, community and identity.
Outside the United States, "liberal" often refers only to free-market policies. For example, in Europe "liberal-conservative" is an accepted term. Differences in meaning and usage of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" have contributed to a great deal of confusion, and often the words seem to be used with no more meaning than "us" and "them". Conservatives and classical liberals are "allied against the common enemy, socialism," but classical liberals are less suspicious of big government than conservatives.(Quinton, Anthony. Conservativism, A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, editors Goodin, Robert E. and Pettit, Philip. Blackwell Publishing, 1995, p. 246.)
Conservatism in different countries
In western democracies, 'conservative' and 'right-wing' are two different terms. Certainly, in the west, liberals embodie the political left. Although left-wing groups and individuals may have conservative social and cultural attitudes, these attitudes are not accepted as legitimate characteristics of a political group that supports the individual rights of personhood. On economic policy and the economic system, conservatives and the right generally support the free market, although less so in Europe than in other places.
Burkean conservatives favour incremental over radical change, even from the right. Most conservatives distrust the xenophobic and even racist sentiments prominent on the political right, just as most socialists distrust the communistic sentiments prominent on the political left. Protectionism and anti-immigration policies may conflict with free-market conservatives' support for deregulation and free trade. Some conservatives oppose military interventionism, inspired by early British conservative thinkers, such as David Hume and Edmund Burke. Burke saw imperialism as interfering with the traditions and organic make-up of the colonised societies.
The overlap between 'respectable' conservatives and the extreme right is determined by the degree of political taboo, rather than inherent ideological incompatibility. In European parliamentary systems, conservatives currently ally with centrist or even leftist groups, rather than with the xenophobic-populist right, although critics have contended that the conservatives are taking in far-right ideas. For example, in December 2005, Le Canard Enchaîné claimed that Nicolas Sarkozy had implemented almost all of the far-right Front National (FN) measures proposed in its election program. All mainstream parties in Belgium cooperated to exclude the Flemish-separatist and xenophobic Vlaams Belang, although some politicians wish to break this 'cordon sanitaire'. And mainstream parties in France sometimes support each others' candidates in run-off elections, to exclude the Front National party. However, in March 1977, and then March 1983, FN was present on RPR-UDF lists at municipal elections; in 1988, RPR and UDF right-wing conservative parties allied with FN in the Bouches-du-Rhône and Var regions. In March 1989, they had common lists in at least 28 cities of more than 9 000 inhabitants. Those alliances were condemned in 1991, but a dozen conservative deputies gained FN's support in 1997.
Conservatism in the United Kingdom is related to its counterparts in other Western nations, but has a distinct tradition. Edmund Burke is often considered the father of conservatism in Anglo-American circles. Burke was a Whig, while the short name "Tory" is given to the modern Conservative Party. Being an 18th century Whig does not preclude a person from being a major figure in the development of that Party. The modern day Party system cannot safely be traced back before the French Revolution and subsequent wars. The views of Burke remain a central tenet of conservative thinking across much of the English-speaking world. As one Australian scholar argues, "For Edmund Burke and Australians of a like mind, the essence of conservatism lies not in a body of theory, but in the disposition to maintain those institutions seen as central to the beliefs and practices of society." (Worthington, Glen,  Conservatism in Australian National Politics, Parliament of Australia Parliamentary Library, 19 February 2002)
The old established form of English and, after the Act of Union, British conservatism, was the Tory Party. It reflected the attitudes of a rural land owning class, and championed the institutions of the monarchy, the Anglican Church, the family, and property as the best defence of the social order. In the early stages of the industrial revolution, it seemed to be totally opposed to a process that seemed to undermine some of these bulwarks. The new industrial elite were seen by many as enemies to the social order.
Sir Robert Peel was able to reconcile the new industrial class to the Tory landed class by persuading the latter to accept the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. He created a new political group that sought to preserve the old status quo while accepting the basics of laissez-faire and free trade. The new coalition of traditional landowners and sympathetic industrialists constituted the new Conservative Party.
Benjamin Disraeli gave the new party a political ideology. As a young man, he was influenced by the romantic movement and the then fashionable medievalism, and developed a devastating critique of industrialism. In his novels he outlined an England divided into two nations, each living in perfect ignorance of each other. He foresaw, like Karl Marx, the phenomenon of an alienated industrial proletariat.
His solution involved a return to an idealised view of a corporate or organic society, in which everyone had duties and responsibilities towards other people or groups. This "one nation" conservatism is still a very important tradition in British politics. It has animated a great deal of social reform undertaken by successive Conservative governments.
Although nominally a Conservative, Disraeli was sympathetic to some of the demands of the Chartists and argued for an alliance between the landed aristocracy and the working class against the increasing power of the middle class, helping to found the Young England group in 1842 to promote the view that the rich should use their power to protect the poor from exploitation by the middle class. The conversion of the Conservative Party into a modern mass organisation was accelerated by the concept of "tory Democracy" attributed to Lord Randolph Churchill.
A Liberal-Conservative coalition during World War I coupled with the ascent of the Labour Party, hastened the collapse of the Liberals in the 1920s. After World War II, the Conservative Party made concessions to the socialist policies of the Left. This compromise was a pragmatic measure to regain power, but also the result of the early successes of central planning and state-ownership forming a cross-party consensus. This was known as 'Butskellism', after the almost identical Keynesian policies of Rab Butler on behalf of the Conservatives, and Hugh Gaitskell for Labour.
However, in the 1980s, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, and the influence of Sir Keith Joseph, there was a dramatic shift in the ideological direction of British conservatism, with a movement towards free-market economic policies. As one commentator explains, "The privatization of state owned industries, unthinkable before, became commonplace [during Thatcher's government] and has now been imitated all over the world."<ref name="mt">Davies, Stephen, Margaret Thatcher and the Rebirth of Conservatism, Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, July 1993</ref> Some commentators have questioned whether Thatcher's conservatism (Thatcherism) was consistent with the traditional concept of "conservatism" in the United Kingdom, and saw her views as more consistent with radical classical liberalism; Thatcher herself was described as "a radical in a conservative party"<ref name="mt"/>, and her ideology has been seen as confronting "established institutions" and the "accepted beliefs of the elite",<ref name="mt"/> both concepts incompatible with the traditional conception of "conservatism" as signifying support for the established order and existing social convention.
Conservatism in Australia is related to British and American conservatism in many respects, but has a distinct political tradition. Like conservatism in many other nations, Australian conservatism is traditionally composed of diverse groups and interests, which are united more by opposition to certain political developments than by a distinct shared ideology; as one scholar argues, "Australian conservatives are more readily characterised by what they reject than by any shared set of values."<ref name="gw"/>
In terms of partisan politics, conservatism has often been defined as opposition to the Australian Labor Party; as such, many different groups have historically been grouped on the "conservative" side of Australian politics, such as "social conservatives...Empire nationalists, organisations supporting rural interests, anti-socialist Catholics, fundamentalist Christians and free-market liberals." In contemporary Australian politics, the Liberal Party of Australia is often seen as the "conservative" party, which can surprise American observers for whom liberalism is seen as opposed to conservatism.
Historically, for the first seventy years after the Federation of Australia, the non-Labor (and hence implicitly "conservative") side of Australian politics was associated with policies of moderate protectionism in trade, and of support for the welfare state, coupled with maintenance of Australia's ties to the British Empire. Many scholars have seen the government of Robert Menzies as exemplifying this trend.<ref name="gw"/> However, from the 1980s, free-market economic policies were increasingly associated with conservatism in Australian politics, following the same trend as the United States and Britain under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher respectively.
In other parts of Europe, mainstream conservatism is often represented by the Christian Democratic parties. They form the bulk of the European Peoples Party faction in the European Parliament. The origin of these parties is usually in Catholic parties of the late 19th and early 20th century, and Catholic social teaching was their original inspiration. Over the years, conservatism gradually became their main ideological inspiration, and they generally became less Catholic. The German CDU, its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) are Protestant-Catholic parties.
In the Nordic countries, conservatism has been represented in liberal conservative parties like the Moderate Party in Sweden, Høyre in Norway and the Conservative People's Party in Denmark. Domestically, these parties generally support market-oriented policies, and usually gain support from the business community and white-collar professionals. Internationally they generally support the European Union and a strong defense. Their views on social issues tend to be more liberal than, for example, the U.S. Republican Party. Social conservatism in the Nordic countries are often found in their Christian Democratic parties. In several Nordic countries, right-wing populist parties have gained some support since the 1970s. Their policies have often been focused on tax cuts, reduced immigration, and tougher law and order policies.
Generally, one could claim that European conservatives tend to be more moderate on many social and economic issues, than American conservatives. They tend to be quite friendly to the aims of the welfare state, although concerned about a healthy business environment. However, some groups have been more supportive of a stricter libertarian or laissez-faire agenda, especially under influence from Thatcherism. European conservative groups often see themselves as guardians of prudence, moderation, history and tried experience, as opposed to radicalism and social experiments. Approval of high culture and established political institutions like the monarchy is often found in European conservatism. Mainstream conservative groups are often staunch supporters of the European Union. However, one might also find elements of nationalism in many countries.
In China conservatism is based on the teachings of Kong Fuzi (Confucius). Confucius, who lived in a time of chaos and warring kingdoms, wrote extensively about the importance of the family, of social stability, and of obedience to just authority. His ideas continue to permeate Chinese society. Traditional Chinese conservatism imbued with Confucian thought have been resurgent in recent years, despite more than a half-century of authoritarian Marxist-Leninist rule.
After Mao's death in 1976, three factions wrestled to succeed him: the hardline Maoists, who wanted to continue the revolutionary mobilization; restorationists, who advocated a return to the Soviet model of communism; and reformers, led by Deng Xiaoping, who hoped to reduce the role of ideology in government and overhaul the Chinese economy.
Traditional Chinese values have surged, rather assertively, in spite of the long-standing revolutionary communist regime. Today, the Communist Party of China is run by technocrats, who seek stability and economic progress, while suppressing free speech and religion. The Party is seen by some as the recipient of the Mandate of Heaven, a traditional Chinese idea. The Communist Party is taming itself and no longer consistently advocates Marxist revolutionary theory, adhering instead to a certain ideological flexibility consistent with the dictum of Deng Xiaoping, that is seek truth from facts.
Love of country and national pride has been resurgent as well as traditionalism. Chinese nationalism tends to speak highly of a centralized, powerful Chinese state. The government attempts to win and maintain the loyalty its citizens and of recently departed overseas Chinese. Recent bestseller China Can Say No expresses a sentiment in favor of a uniquely Chinese path that, tellingly, does not have to involve American norms, such as individualism and Western liberalism. Moreover, the tide may still be coming in for Chinese nationalism, as the next generation of Chinese leaders will have grown up in an environment imbued with nationalism.
Since the 1990s, there has been a neoconservative movement in China (not connected with the US neoconservative movement).
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