Pub. date: 2010 | Online Pub. Date: May 06, 2010 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412958660 | Print ISBN: 9781412958653 | Online ISBN: 9781412958660| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Few political concepts cause more confusion than conservatism. Whereas most academic commentators agree that it is an ideology, many self-styled “conservatives” hotly deny this. Even among academic commentators, conservatism tends to be treated differently from other ideologies, and most of the varying accounts are open to contestation. This entry first reviews the ways in which conservatism has been defined by Edmund Burke and by later thinkers. It then considers the influence of the conservative perspective on political life in Britain, the United States, and in Western political thought more generally. The first of many hurdles encountered by writers on conservatism is the claim that it is not an ideology like liberalism or socialism; instead, conservatives are said to be pragmatic , making political decisions on the basis of their knowledge of specific circumstances, rather than trying to implement policies on the basis of abstract theorizing. An empirical approach to politics ...