Understanding Classical Conservatism

Classical Conservatism is the ideology of authority, hierarchy, order, and tradition (like classical aristocracy). It comes in political and economic forms. It is one of two dominate types of Conservatism (the other being social conservatism which evolved in response to liberalism after the liberal revolutions).

Classical conservatism is generally the antithesis of classical liberalism. Where liberalism favors the liberty and equality of individuals and limited government, classical conservatism favors the order and the authority of traditional power structures (including the traditional class system and a robust top-down system of government and central planning).

At an extreme this can produce tyranny and cause social, economic, and technological stagnation (with its top down central planning), but in moderation it is the necessary key to tempering the other conservative and liberal forms (which all tend to be somewhat chaotic and idealistic in their pure forms.)

Classical conservatism is a classically right-wing ideology in that it tends to be elite and focus on issues of state rather than social issues. However, it does have both elite and populist factions and can be comment on resisting social change like its more progressively socially right-wing cousin social conservatism.

TIP: In America, the traditional ruling elite of either party (or no party like with the CIA or Fed) can be considered classically conservative. The exact meaning of the term changes depending on context however, for example, in the America revolution the revolutionaries were liberal and King George’s men were conservative (in that they represented the old ways of the aristocracy and monarchy).

Classical Conservatism in the Political and Economic Forms

In the political from, classical conservatism is the ideology of authority, hierarchy, order, and tradition with a focus on the collective (over individual liberty). In this sense it is the old order of Kings and Churches and the social stratification of the old estates of the Realm. Generally, it rejects the the laissez faire style of classical liberalism and the progressive style of social liberalism and favors the old conservative economic systems (where states favored a small sub-sect of elite and their companies and taxed them heavily).

Thus, we can say classical conservatism is an ideology authority and order come before liberty and equality. It is exemplified by the archetypical pairing of church and king with a class system beneath them. It is not the ideology of oligarchs and barons (who often warred with the Kings in history) and it is not the ideology of the classical liberal or social conservative liberal (who favors free-markets and individuality). The main concept is order in the collective in favor of the elites (who are the state).

In the economic form, classical conservative economics is all about keeping order and ensuring the wealth of a given nation through a tightly controlled economy. The mercantilism found in companies like the VOC exemplify the classical conservative protectionist economic ideology. However, with that said, the concept of fiscal conservative is also classically conservative at heart, this is the concept of austerity.

TIP: Below Edmund Burke discusses why the liberal anarchists in the French Revolution were not ideal in his opinion. That is a conservative position in the liberal state (which is what we think of classical conservatism today, a type of liberal-conservatism). The video below that is about James VI, an even more classical type of conservative.

An Introduction to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France- A Macat Politics Analysis.

Values and Key Figures of Social Liberalism

Examples of Classical Conservative Values: Economic planning, state-based trade, social and class-based hierarchy, no individual property rights, state-based religion, protectionist, nationalist, no separation of church and state, limited freedom of speech, limited freedom of assembly, no right to a fair trial. They stand against Human Rights not found essential to the state or social structure. From the traditional structure of governing entities from families to kingdoms to the rejection of liberalism to Gilded Age Cronyism and Monopolization. NOTE: The ends are order, hierarchy, and tradition by means of authority. Like the father protects his children, or the Monarch protects the citizens, the classical conservative is the archetype of a patriarch. If the restraints used are seen as necessary, but judged “negatively” by the other members of the family when they limit equality and liberty, that is opinion, not specifically a statement on the effectiveness of the families rules in-action.

Import Figures of Classical Conservatism: James VI, Robert Filmer, Thomas Hobbes, and most governments, businesses, churches, and families in the history of mankind. Conservatism is talked about in almost all liberal texts, but not often is a famous philosopher purely classically conservative. With that note, Locke and Machiavelli are fine places to look. James VI, being a King, is also a good place to look for a justification of conservatism.

Kings and Queens of England: Episode 4: Stuarts.

On the Origin of Conservatism in the Classical Form

The roots of Classical Conservatism: Right around the time the first family formed, classical conservatism arose. Everyone wondering around getting berries without any order is anarchy, so society was formed… from there order was needed, plus “human nature” seems to be to organize into patriarchal and hierarchical systems for one reason or other (often seemingly at the whims of the will of the stronger).

The Evolution of Classical Conservatism: As new ideologies merged, the ruling class of elites shifted and changed along with them. At the end of the day there is always a ruling class of elites who aren’t Barons. These churches and aristocracy are the modern classical conservatives.

POLITICAL THEORY – Thomas Hobbes.

TIP: The term conservative didn’t come into popular use until later when it was used to describe the opposition philosophy of liberalism. Today we call the ideology of the old order of Churches and Kings that resisted progress and favored tradition “classically conservative.” This ideology is notably different from the offshoot that arose in response to classical conservatism, classical liberalism, and social liberalism called social conservatism (which is a mash-up of these three ideologies, which in simple terms, that tends to favor social hierarchy and tradition paired with classical liberal values). Despite its roots of “being the thing that everyone rebelled against” the traditional conservatism: is probably the most popular ideology on earth today with normal and good folk. It is after-all the ideology of order and tradition that figures like Washington, Adams, Eisenhower, Churchill, and Truman essentially embraced to defend the west and uphold our values. Thus, when we talk about traditional centered classical conservatism and fiscal conservatism, we have to be careful not to demonize it for in the past having stood up against progressive left-wing or right-wing change. The supreme court, the federal reserve, laws, or a well ordered military might not be as exciting as social justice or nationalist fervor, but those are essentially the underlying cogs that makes even the most liberal state work.

TIP: There were many different forms of liberalism and conservatism in the late 1600 and 1700s, and even more arose over time as socialism and social liberalism also arose in the 1800s. To add complexity, the traditional conservative ideology has been around for as far back as we know. This can make it difficult to define conservatism, but in general, in any era, when one favors an elite and aristocratic position based on affairs of the state (and not social issues), and thus generally opposes social conservative AND social liberals AND to some degree classical liberals, they are generally being “classically conservative.” The old Kingsmen of King George, the most elite of them, with the tea, those are true classical conservatives. Meanwhile the liberal-conservative patriots like Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, who were rightly considered liberals, are simply a different type of classical conservative.

FACT: All kings and churches tended to be classical conservatives in history, but rarely did a thinker come along and champion their views (most thinkers tend to err toward liberalism in some way). With that said, James VI, Thomas Hobbes, Robert Filmer, and Edmund Burke all do a good job of expressing versions of the conservative viewpoint.

TIP: Classical conservatism is when the rank and file of the old armies stood in a straight line and fired without flinching at the command of their higher-ups and in service to the king and church (and then walked five miles in the snow up hill to pay their taxes). It is order and authority and tradition in its classical form (how everything used to generally used to be prior to key liberal revolutions in history).

Comparing Conservatism and Liberalism

Conservatism compared to liberalism and social conservatism: Classical liberalism and social liberalism are, in many ways, the antithesis of classical conservatism and social conservatism respectively.

To give you a sense of this, the following chart compares liberalism and conservatism in their social and classical forms based on the liberal “virtues” of liberty and equality (see learn more about the differences between liberalism and conservatism):

Sphere of political action Liberal Left-Wing The Left-Right Balance Conservative Right-Wing
Liberty Favoring Freedom (Classical Liberalism) Balanced Liberty Favoring Authority (Classical Conservatism)
Equality Favoring Collectives (Social Liberalism) Balanced Equality Favoring Individuals (Social Conservatism)
Left-Right Chart Liberal Vs. Conservative

This chart shows the different types of liberalism and conservatism as the political “left” and “right”.

TIP: As you can get a sense of from the above charts, in terms of classical forms of governments: Conservatism is the ideology of Monarchies, and Liberalism is the ideology of Democracies (meanwhile, the ideal mixed-republic‘s ideology is somewhere in the middle despite being favored by classical liberals.) Likewise, in terms of their social forms, social conservatism is the ideology of social hierarchy and nativism and social liberalism is the ideology of egalitarianism and inclusion. A person may be inclined toward any ideology due to their personal tastes, but generally speaking they are all valid and naturally occurring pieces of the same puzzle meant to temper each other.

Types of Classical Conservatism

Different forms of Classical Conservatism: Finally, let’s look at some different forms of social liberalism to hammer in the point that this ideology is really a single term under which many different forms fall.

  • Traditional Conservatives: The ideology of order and tradition, not to have dominion over man, but to maximize justice, order, wealth, liberty, equality, and the general virtues of the State. These are figures like Washington, or Adams, or Eisenhower, or Churchill, or Truman. This is the type that has been around forever. It is liberal-conservative. This is what many conservatives see themselves as. The military is a very traditionally conservative body, so are most parts of government (and so are some Oligarchs, at least those not fixing for a new “Barons war”).
  • Tories and Redcoats: Despite their conservative and liberal political views, America’s founders were ultimately Patriot liberals fighting for liberalism and the Tories and Loyalists were the conservative armies of King George III. Decedents of all these factions fought against fascism in WWII.
  • Federalists, Whigs, and Pre-Gilded Age Republicans: These were traditional conservatives, they were socially liberal. They were not populist liberal Democrats like Jefferson, they were Whiggish fellas like Hamilton when it came to business, but certainly socially for equality. These types of conservatives are often found in the Democratic Party today.
  • Neocons: What we can call the business wing of the modern American right. To the extent they ally with social conservatives on social issues, they are socially conservative.
  • The Religious Right: Many on the right are more religious than political. They are classically conservative in wanting order and tradition, despite this they often embrace socially conservative ideology today (as society has moved away from the old classical order).
  • Fiscal Conservatives: Those who are just economically conservative.

"What is Classical Conservatism?" is tagged with: American Politics, Economic Inequality, Liberalism and Conservatism

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