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The Contradictions of Conservatism


This article is a study of the contradictions of conservatism. It shows that most modern writers since Oakeshott have defined conservatism in an abstract manner. Here I argue that their definition, although not wrong, is an incomplete definition which is only coherent because it is incomplete. It is only the first stage in understanding conservatism, which has to be understood also as a negation of rival ideologies and, further, as a political position which points to a tradition or truth outside itself and which can, in service of this tradition or truth, be radical. Since it is part of the standard definition of conservatism that it cannot be radical, this means conservatism, taken as a whole, contradicts itself.

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James Alexander is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University. Contact email:

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

J. Alexander (2012), ‘Three Rival Views of Tradition (Arendt, Oakeshott, MacIntyre)’, Journal of the Philosophy of History, 6: 2144.

M. Cowling (1980), Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England. Vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

M. Cowling (2001), Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England. Vol. 3: Accommodations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

M. Freeden (1996), Ideologies and Political Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

E.H.H. Green (2002), Ideologies of Conservatism (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

R. Scruton (1984), The Meaning of Conservatism, 2nd edn (London: Macmillan).

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Government and Opposition
  • ISSN: 0017-257X
  • EISSN: 1477-7053
  • URL: /core/journals/government-and-opposition
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