"Conservatism" Summary

By Jerry Z. Muller

philosophy | 476 pages | Published in 1997


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

An exploration of the origins, principles, and impact of conservatism in political thought.


In the book "Conservatism," author Roger Scruton explores the core principles, values, and traditions that shape conservative thought and political ideology. Scruton provides a comprehensive analysis of conservatism, examining its historical roots, intellectual foundations, and contemporary relevance. This enlightening book offers readers a deeper understanding of conservative principles and their implications in various areas of society.

Brief Synopsis

The book begins by examining the origins of conservatism, tracing its roots back to traditionalist thinkers such as Edmund Burke. Scruton explains the importance of preserving established institutions, customs, and beliefs, which conservatives believe are essential for maintaining social cohesion and order.

The author then delves into the philosophical underpinnings of conservatism, exploring concepts such as natural law, skepticism toward radical ideologies, and the importance of individual freedom within the context of communal responsibility. Scruton argues that conservatism seeks to strike a balance between preserving tradition and embracing necessary change.

Throughout the book, Scruton discusses different aspects of conservatism, including its views on economics, the role of the state, social issues, and the relationship between individuals and society. He explores how conservatism often advocates for limited government intervention, free markets, and personal responsibility. Additionally, Scruton addresses the conservative perspective on issues such as immigration, multiculturalism, and the preservation of cultural heritage.

Main Events

Chapter 1: The Meaning of ConservatismScruton defines conservatism and its core principles, emphasizing the importance of tradition, order, and the preservation of established institutions.
Chapter 2: The Principles of ConservatismThe author examines the philosophical foundations of conservatism, discussing concepts such as natural law, social contract, skepticism, and the limitations of reason.
Chapter 3: The Institutions of LibertyScruton explores how conservatism views the relationship between the state, the individual, and society. He discusses the role of limited government, individual rights, and the importance of community in maintaining social order.
Chapter 4: Freedom and the MarketIn this chapter, the author discusses conservative beliefs regarding free markets, economic liberalism, and the importance of private property rights. He analyzes the potential tensions between economic freedom and social responsibility.
Chapter 5: The Rule of LawScruton examines the conservative view of the rule of law and its significance in ensuring justice, preserving freedom, and limiting the power of government.
Chapter 6: The People's HomeThe author explores the conservative stance on social issues, including family values, education, and the preservation of cultural heritage. He addresses topics like immigration, multiculturalism, and the challenges these issues pose to conservative principles.
Chapter 7: The Dissolution of the Nation StateScruton discusses the tension between conservatism and globalization, examining how conservatives navigate the complexities of international relations and the preservation of national identity.

Main Characters

Here are some of the key figures discussed in the book:

  1. Edmund Burke - An influential philosopher known as the father of conservatism.
  2. Michael Oakeshott - A political theorist who emphasized tradition, custom, and the limitations of rationalism.
  3. Friedrich Hayek - An economist and philosopher whose ideas on free markets and limited government have shaped conservative economic thought.
  4. Russell Kirk - An American political theorist who developed the concept of "ordered liberty" within the conservative tradition.
  5. Margaret Thatcher - The former British Prime Minister, whose policies embraced conservative principles of limited government, free markets, and individual responsibility.

Themes and Insights

  • Tradition and Order: Conservatism emphasizes the value of tradition, institutions, and social order as essential for maintaining stability and continuity.
  • Limited Government: Conservatives value limited government intervention and believe in the importance of individual freedom and personal responsibility.
  • Skepticism towards Radical Ideologies: Scruton explores conservatism's wariness of radical social and political ideologies, emphasizing the need for caution when pursuing sweeping societal changes.
  • Preservation of Cultural Heritage: The book highlights conservatism's emphasis on preserving cultural heritage and traditional values, particularly in the face of globalization and multiculturalism.

Reader's Takeaway

"Conservatism" offers readers a thorough exploration of conservative thought, providing valuable insights into its principles, intellectual foundations, and application to contemporary issues. Through Scruton's analysis, readers gain a deeper understanding of conservatism's historical significance and its relevance in shaping political and social discourse. This book is an essential read for anyone seeking to broaden their understanding of political ideologies and the complexities of conservative thought.


In "Conservatism," Roger Scruton presents a comprehensive analysis of the principles and values that underpin conservative ideology. From examining the historical origins of conservatism to exploring its philosophical and practical implications, Scruton offers readers a rich and nuanced understanding of conservatism's core tenets. This book serves as a valuable resource for scholars, political enthusiasts, and anyone interested in gaining insight into the conservative mindset and its impact on society.

Conservatism FAQ

  1. What is conservatism?

    Conservatism is a political philosophy that emphasizes traditional values, limited government intervention, and the preservation of established institutions and customs.

  2. Who are some prominent conservative thinkers?

    Prominent conservative thinkers include Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Friedrich Hayek, and William F. Buckley Jr.

  3. What are the key principles of conservatism?

    The key principles of conservatism include respect for tradition, belief in limited government, support for free markets, emphasis on individual liberty, and the importance of maintaining social order.

  4. Are all conservatives the same?

    No, conservatives can have varying views on specific policies and issues. While there are common principles that unite conservatives, there can be differences within the conservative movement.

  5. Is conservatism only concerned with economic matters?

    No, conservatism encompasses a wide range of issues including social and cultural matters, foreign policy, and national security. While economic matters are often a focus of conservatism, they are not the sole concern.

  6. What is the relationship between conservatism and liberalism?

    Conservatism and liberalism are often seen as opposing political ideologies. While they both seek to address societal issues, they do so from different perspectives. Conservatism aims to preserve traditional values and institutions, while liberalism advocates for progress and individual freedoms.

  7. Are there different types of conservatism?

    Yes, there are different types of conservatism such as fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, and national conservatism. These different types can emphasize different aspects of conservative principles.

  8. Is conservatism a global phenomenon?

    Yes, conservatism is not limited to a specific country or region. It has been a significant political force in various countries around the world.

  9. Are there any criticisms of conservatism?

    Yes, like any political ideology, conservatism has its critics. Some common criticisms include a perception of resistance to change, an alleged bias towards the privileged, and concerns over the potential for inequality.

  10. Can someone be conservative on some issues and liberal on others?

    Yes, it is possible for individuals to have a mix of conservative and liberal views on different issues. People's political beliefs can be complex and may not neatly align with a single ideology.