Why True Conservatism Means Anarchy | The American Conservative

First, let’s reflect on the nature of conservatism. Its master theoretician remains Russell Kirk, the founder of post-war American conservatism. I am fond of this Kirk quote: “The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.”

Thus conservatism is really a habit of mind or orientation of sentiment. It is a way of thinking about man, society, and the relationship between the two. It has much more to say about how we treat these topics than what we say about them. It would be wrong to conclude that any position can be conservative so long as it is theorized in the “right” way. But it nonetheless remains true that conservatism is primarily a modifier, an adjective. This is why the phrase “conservative liberal” need not be a contradiction in terms. In fact, many of the greatest thinkers in the conservative tradition—Acton, Tocqueville, even Burke himself—are best classified under this label.
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