Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition by Edmund Fawcett - review by Michael Taube

Michael Taube

All Burke’s Children

Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition


Princeton University Press 514pp £30

For more than two centuries, conservatism has been one of the world’s most influential political philosophies. It has a rich history and is rooted in concepts such as tradition, order, liberty, capitalism and individual freedom. Like most political ideologies, it has witnessed dramatic periods of growth, development and evolution. Yet no two conservatives think exactly alike: the semi-statist instincts of some can clash with the attachment of others to unfettered capitalism.

Edmund Fawcett’s Conservatism explores the multifaceted history of this philosophy. The book serves as a companion to his highly acclaimed Liberalism: The Life of an Idea, published in 2014. In this new work, Fawcett suggests that conservatism has a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde character. Conservatives ‘promise stability and upheaval, continuity and disruption,’ he notes. Their temperaments can ‘swing from confidence in their record and pride in their creed to fear that success will be snatched away and that their beliefs are widely ignored’.

In his view, as ‘puzzling as it sounds, conservatives have largely created and learned to dominate a liberal modern world in which they cannot feel at home’. A self-described ‘left-wing liberal’, Fawcett includes this small caveat: ‘I do not claim that this history is neutral. I trust it is objective.’

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