On Being Conservative

To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to Utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one's own fortune, to live at the level of one's own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one's circumstances. With some people this is itself a choice; in others it is a disposition which appears, frequently or less frequently, in their preferences and aversions, and is not itself chosen or specifically cultivated.

--Michael Oakeshott, On Being Conservative

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4 thoughts on “On Being Conservative”

  1. It's an essay in a book ("Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays"). The essay can be found here:


  2. The reason I read this blog is because it provokes thought on important (most of the time) issues. This entry is a great example. Well done, Richard.

    It is this Oakeshottian conservatism that I cling to, not the conservatism of any political party. Politics are ultimately about power, so the poetry of a belief system gets grinded away by the constant compromises one must make to get to positions of power.

    I'd like to make an additional suggestion about why I think conservatism has more to offer than progressivism: conservatism gets closer to reality. In a nutshell, conservatism sees the human condition as it is, not as it ought to be. And the constant clanging of moral busy-bodies who think they know better about how to [insert pet policy here] is, in my view, more destructive than the actual living out of a reality-based life.

    Progressives, in my general view, just seem too eager to identify and label something as a problem in every corner of society. And its not so much that they are wrong about the problems, but they are wrong about the solutions. To be sure, there are exceptions that require large-scale administrative solutions (transportation and environmental policy come to mind), but that's a different discussion.

  3. A conservative can reform "what is", but doesn't bring about revolution to the basic understandings, and underpinnings of society.
    Today, the revolutionaries want to dissolve nation/ethnic status, whether through religious ideals, or political (economic) ones. Both are mis-guided, I believe.

    Globalization has occurred as a consequence of "the market". And "free markets" are not conditioned by government intervention, but hindered. Globalization must mean that all parties have a voice and right to enter into the market, but doesn't mean that each voice will have a right of "outcome". Competition must drive who is heard.

    The religious "ideals" that seek a unified "outcome" cannot be defined by any one religion, because the metaphysical realm is not open to verification, like other "realities" are. Selling religion, when the real world functions on other "fuel" is hinderance to those who limit their choices to such "fuel". Discovery, then, becomes "taboo".

    The political (economic) ideal cannot bring "equal outcome" because it diminishes liberty. "Life" is understood in experience as contingent, variable, and multi-dimensional. Why would any policy honk want to limit the complexity/diversity that makes for an "abundant life" (as individually defined by specifically chosen values), unless they want to empower themselves at the costs of "the people"?

    Science is not dependent on what one "thinks" of a metaphysical realm. Although science "feeds" the market, science still doesn't "know everything"....

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