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The ‘dialectical’ theory of conservatism

Fear, Christopher



Recently, James Alexander has proposed a ‘dialectical definition’ of conservatism which, he believes, goes beyond ‘dispositional’ definitions, such as those proposed by Brennan and Hamlin, and by Martin Beckstein, which are ‘incomplete’.1 Alexander argues that, by focusing on conservative responses to ‘ruptures’ of continuity, his expanded account exposes the ‘fundamentally contradictory’ nature of conservative thought.2 This article offers a critique of Alexander’s ‘dialectical definition’ of conservatism, highlighting its inconsistency with the ideological content long agreed by conservative political thinkers, and with the historical realities of conservative political practice. But it also shows that there is a valuable and rightful place for a political ‘dialectic’ as part of a theory of conservatism that is more consistent with the history of conservative thought and practice. It is a dialectic with many historical precedents in political theory, two of which are examined in detail: (1) the earliest, found in Plato’s Statesman; and (2) an innovative and particularly useful formulation of it to be found in the political philosophy of R. G. Collingwood.


Fear, C. (2020). The ‘dialectical’ theory of conservatism. Journal of political ideologies, 25(2), 197-211.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 31, 2018
Online Publication Date Apr 10, 2020
Publication Date May 3, 2020
Deposit Date Jul 16, 2019
Publicly Available Date Oct 11, 2021
Journal Journal of Political Ideologies
Print ISSN 1356-9317
Electronic ISSN 1469-9613
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 25
Issue 2
Pages 197-211
Keywords Conservatism; Ideology; Political theory; R. G. Collingwood; Conservative Party
Public URL
Additional Information Peer Review Statement: The publishing and review policy for this title is described in its Aims & Scope.; Aim & Scope:; Published: 2020-04-10


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