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Study Notes


AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Conservatism is partly a belief in pragmatism, which means not changing things unless there is a very good reason to do so.

Traditional Conservatives believe in reform where necessary. They have a respect for law and order and a conviction that the government should not interfere too much in the way people run their lives. They also believe in the importance of the protection of property and have a belief that individuals have the right to be successful. They respect tradition, in particular institutions like the Church, the House of Lords and the family, which they believe have lasted because they must have some value.

All this has translated into general policy prescriptions involving low taxes, not too much public spending, and a belief that private companies (in pursuit of profit) are capable of performing many of the services that people need, and allowing these companies to compete will improve those services.

There are also Modern Conservatives, whose beliefs can be traced back to the writings of Benjamin Disraeli in the 19th Century. ‘One-Nation’ Conservatives believed that the government has a duty to help the less fortunate, and in return those receiving that help would have responsibilities to try to contribute to lifting themselves out of poverty.

A good description of what ‘being Conservative’ means was provided by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, who described it as being the captain of a large sailing ship on the open sea, not particularly heading anywhere (i.e. not bound by rigid ideology), but making sure that the ship didn’t crash into rocks or icebergs and kept going serenely on its’ way.

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