RE: definition of conservatism

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From: Lisa Dusseault (
Date: Mon Dec 04 2000 - 08:07:32 PST

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Kragen Sitaker []
> Conservatives believe in objective truth,
> and there is an objective truth about what conservativism is.
> Ever since conservatism was given its definitive articulation
> by Edmund Burke, conservatives have worked to build a society
> of orders and classes, governed by a hereditary aristocracy, in
> which tradition and prejudice are good things and equality and
> innovation are bad things, in which the lower orders
> unquestioningly regard the judgements of authority and
> institutions as the absolute truth, and in which everyone
> presupposes that all oppression is the fault of the oppressed.
> That's what conservatism is, and what it has always been.

Great scholarship, and I'm sure that's what conservatism was. However, I'm
not convinced that's what conservatism means today. English is one of the
more flexible languages around, and thankfully we don't have an academy to
tell us how to speak it properly. Thus, the language is free to evolve. To
take a simple word like "mouse", clearly that has adopted new meanings. But
other words have evolved more subtly. The definitions of gas, liquid and
solid, molecule and atom have all evolved as science has gotten more
definition in these areas. Secretaries, valets gardeners and maids are no
longer personal servants in a modern economy, but we know what the words now

A label like "conservative", which implies much what Klassa said w.r.t.
accepting change only slowly, is most useful if it continues to evolve to
describe what most people who think themselves to be conservatives think
themselves to be. Political goals shift and political labels must shift
along with them.

Why not call Burke & his ilk "17th-century conservatives" and allow the rest
of us to redefine use a quite useful word in a modern context, since very
few people in this country who think themselves conservative want to be
governed by a hereditary aristocracy.


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