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. https://doi.org/10.1080/13569317.2020.1750760