The term ‘conservative’ has a verity of meaning. It may refer to a person with a moderate or cautious behavior, or a life style that is conventional, even conformist, or a fear of, or refusal to change. Conservatism is an ideology which opposes more than it favors. Andrew Haywood (‘Political Ideologies’) rightly says that: “There is, for example, some truth in the belief that conservatives have a clearer understanding of what they oppose than what they favour”. To that extent, conservatism is a negative philosophy which preaches resistance to or at least wary suspicion of change: it is, therefore, a defense of the status quo.
In this sense, convictism is a political attitude rather than an ideology. People may be considered to be ‘conservative’ when they resist change, without subscribing to a conservative political creed. The Stalinists, in the former Soviet Union, who opposed Gorbachev’s ‘Perestroika’ and ‘Glasnost’ were ‘conservative’ in their action, but certainly not conservative in terms of their political ideology. The desire to resist change may be a recurrent theme within conservatism, but what distinguishes a conservative from people of other ideologies is the distinctive arguments and values which a conservative employs in upholding his objective.
Conservatism is more than an ‘attitude of mind’ or an ‘approach to life’ or what Hugh Ceril said ‘a natural disposition of the human mind’. Conservatives, in fact, prefer to base their arguments on experience and reality rather than abstract principles. Conservatism is neither simple pragmatism, nor more opportunism. It is based upon a particular set of political beliefs about human beings, the societies they live in, and the importance of a distinctive set of political values. As such,’ like liberalism and socialism, it can rightfully be described as an ideology’ (Andrew Haywood).
The essence of conservatism, Russell Kirk (The Conservative Mind) says, ”is the preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity and that for the conservative, custom, convention, constitution ,and prescription are the roots of a tolerable civil order”.He adds that “forces of great power in nations are prescriptions in favor of local rights and private property, of habits of life, prejudices in favor of old decencies, the family, and religious dogmas”.
De Kirk lists six canons of conservative thought:
1) A “belief in a body of natural law which rules society and conscience”.
2) A “love of variety and the mystery of human existence, as opposed to narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism and utilitarianism”.
3) A “conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes as opposed to a ‘classes’ society, equality in the judgment of God and before courts of law. Equality of condition means equality in servitude and boredom”.
4) “Freedom and prosperity are inseparable, or else government becomes the master of all”.
5) A “faith in prescription, for customs, conservations and old prescriptions are checks upon anarchy and man’s lust for power”.
6) “Change may not be good reform; a statesman’s chief virtue is prudence”.
Conservatism is the philosophy of individualism, of an autonomous individual, of an individual with inalienable rights, of an individual rooted in strong moral values, of an individual nurtured in traditions.