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10 - Conservatism: The Utility of History and the Case against Rationalist Radicalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 August 2019

Warren Breckman
Affiliation:
University of Pennsylvania
Peter E. Gordon
Affiliation:
Harvard University, Massachusetts
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Summary

Conservatism can be distinguished – definitionally, if not always in practice – from reaction. The conservative seeks to conserve existing institutions (political, cultural, social, and economic), usually recognizing that the process of conservation may include the need for evolutionary reform. The reactionary, by contrast, is at odds with existing institutions, and seeks to return to some institutional status quo ante, often in a form transfigured by memory and ideology. Radical conservatism is a recurrent strand of thought which is related to conservatism yet politically and analytically distinct both from conservatism and from reaction. The radical conservative shares some of the concerns of more conventional conservatism, such as the need for institutional authority and continuity with the past. But he believes that the processes characteristic of modernity have destroyed the valuable legacy of the past for the present, so that a restoration of the purported virtues of the past demands radical or revolutionary action.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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