Understanding conservative thought

My article in the November Quadrant, Conservative Thought in the Time of Covid (Part II), has now been put online where anyone can read it. It is strictly a discussion of political philosophy from a conservative perspective, or from what I think ought to be a conservative perspective. This is not everyone’s interest since this is totally abstracted from any particular issue, but goes to the essence of what I think a conservative philosophy consists of.

This is the conclusion, but it comes at the end of more than 9000 words, which are found in the first instalment that was published in October and now the lead up to where I conclude with what I think is the core issue of conservatism. This needs to be seen as the central line of attack against the teeming ignorance of the left found everywhere which is spreading by the day.

Conservative thought is often seen as having originated within the historic traditions of our Western religious beliefs. And while there is a great deal of truth to this, it is not the essence of modern conservative thought. Modern conservatism is based on defending individual rights and personal freedoms, politically and in our economic relations. Freedom of religion is one part of these freedoms, but no particular religious belief is at the core of conservative thought. Any religion, and no religion at all, is potentially consistent with conservatism.

These are the elements of conservatism as it needs to be understood if we are to defend ourselves against the rising socialist beliefs that are its major political alternative.

  1. An individual’s right to be left alone to live one’s own life as one pleases with no interference from government unless to prevent harm to others.
  2. Absolute right to free speech—anyone can say or write anything about anything they like at any time as part of a public discussion.
  3. Market economy—economic outcomes should be almost entirely based on individual personal decisions to produce. The government’s role in the creation of wealth is minimal.
  4. Adherence to a legal and moral tradition with historic roots based on individual rights and freely determined religious beliefs so long as those beliefs are not imposed on others.

This is the War of the Worlds at the present time, as it has been since the middle of the eighteenth century as the first glimmers of communal prosperity began to emerge. The earliest and possibly the greatest philosophical defenders of this tradition were Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, both of whom wrote great treatises on economic theory. Both understood that at the centre of our contentment with life, along with our ability to produce, were personal freedoms and individual rights.

The great error in much of the writings on conservative thought since these times has been to separate out the role of the market economy as, at best, a minor element in the structure of conservative thought. In fact, it is at the very core of what must be understood and defended.

The first of the articles may be found here: Conservative Thought in the Time of Covid. These are the major battlelines of our time, which is a battle that will soon end unless the non-conservative side of politics actually takes full control, which is a constant danger and genuine possibility.

And let me also remind you that if you do not subscribe to Quadrant already you are missing out on the world’s best conservative publication. Subscriptions here.

34 thoughts on “Understanding conservative thought”

  1. No, no, no, no, NO.
    Traditional conservatism is not about any of those things you goose.
    Conservatism flows from an understanding of RESPONSIBILITY.
    The conservative craves responsibility. He wants to build something, and take responsibility for it. A family. A business. A town. A school. A club.
    The collectivist in contrast, wants to avoid or warp responsibility. She wants to lay claim to that which others have built. Collectivise responsibility. Deny responsibility. Play the victim and use force and violence.
    The conservative offers to resign if he is responsible for a stuff up. The collectivist finds someone else to blame.
    The conservative IS conservative in mindset, not gambling everything on badly thought out risks because he is responsible.
    The collectivist can advocate the most extreme and risky propositions because ultimately she feels free to ditch all responsibility when it implodes, lay the blame elsewhere and move on.
    The conservative wants his responsibility, for better or worse.
    The collectivist hardly knows what the word means.
    Rights without responsibilities are illusions.
    The illusion is presented in order to take the product of other’s labor.
    Much of the corporate world is now collectivist in nature.
    “Free speech” was never a conservative value. Conservatives respect God and traditional values, they no more wish to see the culture descend into blasphemy and filth than they wish to dodge responsibility. In so far that these conservative values disappear, so too does conservatism, and what you confusingly discribevis something else again.
    Your libertarian vision of conservatism is all wrong.


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  2. “…the teeming ignorance of the left found everywhere which is spreading by the day.”

    And not a little wilful blindness.

    We may never recover from the dumbing down of our children for the past 40 years and more. The answer is not to be found amongst our current crop of educators and their clones.


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  3. Moreover, the conservative wants to live among others who likewise take responsibility.
    He wants to live among men who do not abandon their families.
    He wants to be in a jurisdiction where murder is a serious crime and those convicted of it aren’t nannied or rehabilitated, but risk being put to death.
    He does not consider getting oblivious or heavily intoxicated as a recreation, but as a stupid risk. He wants his neighbour to think so too.
    He does not find the sight of a welfare dependent bum laying on the pavement unpleasant because he is contemplating the cost to himself in taxes that such a wretch represents: He finds it so because the sight of someone not taking responsibility for themselves is in and of itself aesthetically displeasing to him.
    In short, he wants to live among the right, the responsible and the just.


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  4. The conservative does not drive a flash car or borrow the maximum amount in order to live in the most splendid surrounds.
    The conservative works and saves, even when he doesn’t need to, or when distorted economies make a strategy of borrowing appear the better strategy.
    He does so because being productive and prudent are conservative strategies, conservative habits of mind. A society that rewards these traits is a conservative society. The conservative preserves these traits even in times disadvantageous to their employ. If he doesn’t, he might be on the right, but he isn’t a conservative.


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  5. I once thought of subscribing to Quadrant, but then realised that there are only a few who know how to write or, should I say, convey a thought, argument, concept etc.

    The first thing I look at when I open an article is how small the scroll bar is on the right of my screen. If it’s about 3mm long, I don’t bother. It means that it’s another 10-20,000 word tome that wanders all over the place rather than getting to the point.

    As mark Twain is purported to have written, ‘If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter’, or words to that effect. That is something all Quadrant writers should consider.


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  6. “A conservative doesn’t drive a flash car”
    I’ll have to mull than one over. Sounds like a class jealousy thing and distinctly unAustralian.
    Unless I am mistaken about the use of “flash” of course.
    I have been wrong before.


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  7. I’ll have to mull than one over. Sounds like a class jealousy thing and distinctly unAustralian.

    ..
    No, it would be jealousy if I said that conservatives don’t want YOU to drive an ostentatiously flash car.


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  8. If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter’

    From the great Sir Winston Churchill:
    “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”


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  9. Arky is wrong, and so is that OP.

    Conservatism is not a belief in things like liberty or responsibility in a context free vacuum

    It is the belief that we should value those things that WORK. It is the belief that we should value those ideas, strategies and traditions which contribute to superior outcomes

    The principles listed above are “Conservative”, because they pass the Conservative test, not because some god of conservatism chiselled them into tablets of stone.

    Conservatism recognises good principles, it does not create them.

    It is equally true that Conservatism does not value ideas according to their source. A good idea is a good idea.


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  10. The assessment of ideas according to results is not and never has been a genuine resistance to change. It is an acknowledgement of the value of experience. Conservatives know that change is required to improve.
    Conservatives also know that not all change brings improvement.
    We who live in prosperous times are neither better nor smarter than those who created these good times.

    There is a greater fool than he who says “This is old, therefore it is good”.
    It is he who says, “This is new, therefore it is better”.



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  11. I agree with most of what Arky wrote, however a man should still be able to call himself a conservative if he owns ‘flash’ things. He should be able to buy whatever the hell he wants.


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  12. Jupes,
    What model Monaro are we talking about?
    And what you spend your money on is your business.
    Not a self appointed arbiter of what is correct in their mind.
    I just decide what is in good taste. Or not.


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  13. There is nothing anti-Conservative about owning an expensive car.

    The key to Conservatism is the understanding that we value WHAT WORKS, as assessed BY EXPERIENCE.

    One of those things that “works” is that people are permitted to enjoy the fruits of their labours. If someone is frugal, works hard, saves and invests, then when it pays off, Conservative recognise that they ARE ENTITLED TO REWARD. If that includes buying an expensive car, then good luck to them.

    That is the “gratification” part of the Delayed Gratification that is so essential to free-market capitalism and wealth generation. There is nothing Conservative about insisting that we should all live like paupers with big bank accounts.

    Their money. Their choice.


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  14. Free speech” was never a conservative value. Conservatives respect God and traditional values, they no more wish to see the culture descend into blasphemy and filth than they wish to dodge responsibility

    The error here is in not understanding how we avoid “descent into blasphemy and filth”.

    Which works better! Rational and open debate, in which propositions are supported on their merits…. or the Spanish Inquisition?

    Denial of free speech – the burning of books and heretics , or sending them off to the gulags – is not how we improve.

    You can’t argue that Responsibility is a core Conservative value, without accepting the corollary that we are responsible for informing our own thoughts through the rational comparison of ideas and information.


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  15. Re buying expensive cars:

    My husband is a “car nut” – it is his one indulgence. He is a wonderful hard working man & he has put up with my idiosyncrasies bravely all our married life. Accordingly, I have supported (well tolerated) his forays in club motor racing (when we were young) & owning (sequentially) just about every brand known to man that he “fancied”. I would be embarrassed to tell you the car he bought a year ago when we sold a property that we had owned for 40 years. In his later years he has taken to restoring them (MGTF, Willeys Jeep, Lola T440, & assisted mate’s 1938 Bentley restoration) .

    I tell you this because this very morning I woke up & astonished him by telling him that we ought to consider buying a “collectible” car! I have been concerned about the threat of inflation and although we do have some property hedge against inflation, it seems to me that some cars are proving an amazing investment & should be considered as opposed to shares or property.

    He could not believe what he just heard. These are strange times, I told him.


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  16. It is the belief that we should value those things that WORK. It is the belief that we should value those ideas, strategies and traditions which contribute to superior outcomes

    Exactly. We are now almost neck deep in failed destructive institutions that do nothing other than (deliberately) accelerate our society’s decline. Hence my “crush, kill, destroy” mantra when it comes to abominations such as the ALPBC, the family kangaroo court and the AHRC (among many others).

    He should be able to buy whatever the hell he wants.

    Ditto. Reward for effort as opposed to sponging off the productive and still having the gall to expect to be showered with things that everyone else has to work for.

    Oh – and by the way, Arks, if it’s any consolation I do not consider myself to be a conservative, but hopefully you already knew that.


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  17. Vicki – history indicates that in hard times luxuries like collectibles (cars, antiques etc) do not fare well. People need disposable income to buy them.

    OTOH, if you can get an absolute gem at a rock-bottom price, and can afford to carry the cost, you could make a motza if and when the good times roll around again. It might be some years away, though.

    Happy motoring! 🙂


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  18. Vicki,

    My dear other half has always been somewhat unenthusiastic in relation to my motor vehicle purchases. That was until 3 years years ago when I bought an 1988 6 cylinder Mercedes.

    Checked the old girls credentials (no not the other half), found it was built in Germany with all the available extras except heated seats. Suddenly other half enjoys the luxury and comfort of cruising up the highway with cruise control locked on. So once a month when we spend a day or two away from home.

    Mind you it still had the original first aid kit and fire extinguisher, needless to say I replaced them and, kept the originals along with all original paperwork.

    And, the Merc still achieves 8.49 litres (approx. 33.12 miles per gallon) per hundred kms at 110 kmh highway speed.

    Importantly the value steadily increases with each insurance renewal.

    So at least I am in the good books on that purchase, won’t make a comment on others.


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  19. “That was until 3 years years ago when I bought an 1988 6 cylinder Mercedes. “

    Nice.
    Although for myself, I’d prefer an 500SEL (if was going to buy a Benz, which I would not).


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  20. “Husband says Lotus Cortina…”

    Nice, but rare and expensive for a genuine one – unless you happen to luck onto a “barn find” or a deceased estate.
    Alas, the one man I would trust to rebuild the engine is no longer in business…


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  21. Interesting that Nancy Pelosi (aka, wicked witch of the west) has purchased a US$25 million mansion in…. Florida!
    Perhaps she is going to retire and doesn’t want to pay the exorbitant state taxes in CA any more…


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  22. Rabz:

    Exactly. We are now almost neck deep in failed destructive institutions that do nothing other than (deliberately) accelerate our society’s decline. Hence my “crush, kill, destroy” mantra when it comes to abominations such as the ALPBC, the family kangaroo court and the AHRC (among many others).

    I agree.
    Sometimes one has to destroy down to the level of ‘no stone standing on another’. When the foundations are rotten and built on lies, there is no alternative.


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  23. Vicki:

    Husband says Lotus Cortina – if you find one & can afford it – is a good investment.

    Poor bugger.
    He’s gone mad.
    Trade him in for a couple of thirty year old stud muffins.
    Or just give him the Tontine Treatment.
    You”ll thank me for it.
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  24. Johanna:

    Vicki – history indicates that in hard times luxuries like collectibles (cars, antiques etc) do not fare well. People need disposable income to buy them.

    Something I’ve noticed in a lifetime of reading disaster novels, prepper manuals, etc is that there is always someone who rules the roost in any post collapse society.
    These are the ones you need to look for.
    – fine liquors with a recognisable name.
    – stuff like pepper grinders – who grows peppers post apocalypse?
    – coffee and tea plants.
    The Head Sherang will have a bevy of women.
    – Birth control pills/condoms.
    – fine underwear.
    – Tampons!
    If you have a stock of this stuff to present as gifts, you are home and hosed.
    (Don’t forget vegemite.)
    moderated

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