The Meaning of Conservatism
St. Augustine's Press (1980, 1984, 3rd ed. 2000)
220 pages, ISBN: 978-1-890318-40-6
This is a major contribution to political thought from conservatism's greatest contemporary proponent. Originally published in Britain in 1980 and revised in 1984, this edition – the first ever in the United States – is a major rewriting of the work. Scruton's idea of conservatism – what in America we tend to call "paleo-conservatism" – might well shock the sensibilities of those American conservatives" who view it as little more than the workings of the free market. Conservatism, says Scruton, is neither automatic hostility toward the state nor the desire to limit the state's obligations toward the citizen.
Rather, conservatism regards the individual not as the premise but the conclusion of politics, a politics that is fundamentally opposed to the ethic of social justice, to equality of station, income, and achievement, or to the attempt to bring major institutions of society (such as schools and universities) under government control.
The conservative outlook, says Scruton, is neither outmoded nor irrational. On the contrary, it is the most reasonable of political alternatives. The evils of socialism, he maintains, lie precisely where its supporters find its strengths, and the conditions for the credibility of socialism have long since disappeared. Neither socialism nor liberalism can come to terms with the real complexity of human society, and both appear plausible only because they direct attention away from what is actual, toward what is merely ideal.
From earlier editions of The Meaning of Conservatism:
"The book provides exactly that swift kick on the intellectual bottom which every undergraduate student of political science needs, most of them more urgently than ever before." – T. E. Utley, (London) Daily Telegraph
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