Traditionalist conservatism , also known as traditional conservatism , classical conservatism , traditionalism and Toryism (in the United Kingdom and Canada ), is a political philosophy emphasizing the need for the principles of a transcendent moral order, manifested through certain natural laws to which society ought to conform in a prudent manner. Traditionalist conservatism is a variant of conservatism based on the political philosophies of Aristotle and Edmund Burke . Traditionalists emphasize the bonds of social order over hyper-individualism and the defense of ancestral institutions.

Traditionalist conservatism places a strong emphasis on the notions of custom, convention and tradition . Theoretical reason is derided over, and against practical reason. The state is seen as a communal enterprise with spiritual and organic qualities. Traditionalists believe that change, if it does happen, is not the result of intentional reasoned thought, it flows naturally out of the traditions of the community. Leadership, authority and hierarchy are seen as natural products. Traditionalism developed throughout 18th-century Europe , particularly as a response to the disorder of the English Civil War and the radicalism of the French Revolution . In the middle of the 20th century it started to organize itself in earnest as an intellectual and political force.

Key principles

Natural law and transcendent moral order

Belief in natural law and transcendent moral order lay the foundation for traditionalist conservative thought. Reason and divine revelation inform natural law and the universal truths of faith. It is through these universal truths of faith that man orders himself and the world around him. Mankind organized society on the basis of these universal truths of faith. The traditionalist holds axiomatic the belief that religion precedes civilization (see T. S. Eliot 's essays Christianity and Culture ). Most traditionalist conservatives embrace High Church Christianity (e.g. T. S. Eliot , an Anglo-Catholic; Russell Kirk , a Roman Catholic; and Rod Dreher , an Eastern Orthodox Christian). However, not all traditionalists are High Church Christians. Other traditionalists whose faith traditions are notable include Caleb Stegall , who is an evangelical Protestant . Many conservative mainline Protestants are also traditionalist conservatives, including some of the writers for Touchstone Magazine . Many traditionalists are Jewish, such as the late Will Herberg , Irving Louis Horowitz , Mordecai Roshwald and Paul Gottfried .

Tradition and custom

As the name suggests, traditionalists believe that tradition and custom guide man and his worldview. Each generation inherits the experience and culture of its ancestors and through convention and precedence man is able to pass it down to his descendants. To paraphrase Edmund Burke , often regarded as the father of modern conservatism : "The individual is foolish, but the species is wise".

Hierarchy and organic unity

Traditionalist conservatives believe that human society is essentially hierarchical (i.e. it always involves various interdependent inequalities, degrees and classes and that political structures that recognize this fact, prove the most just, thriving and generally beneficial). Hierarchy allows for the preservation of the whole community simultaneously, instead of protecting one part at the expense of the others.


The countryside and the values of rural life are highly prized (sometimes even being romanticized, as in pastoral poetry). The principles of agrarianism (i.e. preserving the small family farm, open land, the conservation of natural resource and stewardship of the land) are central to a traditionalist's understanding of rural life.

Classicism and high culture

Traditionalists defend classical Western civilization and value an education informed by the texts of the Hebraic , Greek , Roman and Medieval eras. Similarly, traditionalists are classicists who revere high culture in all of its manifestations (e.g. literature , music , architecture , art and theater ).

Patriotism, localism and regionalism

Unlike nationalists, who esteem the role of the State or nation over the local or regional community, traditionalists hold up patriotism as a key principle. Traditionalist conservatives think that loyalty to a locality or region is more central than any commitment to a larger political entity. Traditionalists also welcome the value of subsidiarity and the intimacy of one's community, preferring the Civil Society of Burke's "little platoons" over the expanded state. Alternately, nationalism leads to jingoism and views the state as abstract from the local community and family structure rather than as an outgrowth of these local realities.


British influences

Traditionalist conservatism began with the thought of Anglo-Irish Whig statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke , whose political principles were rooted in moral natural law and the Western tradition. Burke believed in prescriptive rights and that those rights were "God-given". He defended what he referred to as "ordered liberty" (best reflected in the unwritten law of the British constitutional monarchy). He also advocated for those transcendent values that found support in such institutions as the church, the family and the state. He was a fierce critic of the principles behind the French Revolution and in 1790 his observations on its excesses and radicalism were collected in Reflections on the Revolution in France . In Reflections , Burke called for the constitutional enactment of specific, concrete rights and warned that abstract rights could be easily abused to justify tyranny. American social critic and historian Russell Kirk wrote: "The Reflections burns with all the wrath and anguish of a prophet who saw the traditions of Christendom and the fabric of civil society dissolving before his eyes".

Burke's influence extended to later thinkers and writers, both in his native Britain and in Continental Europe. Among those influenced by his thought were the English Romantic poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge , William Wordsworth and Robert Southey , Scottish Romantic author Sir Walter Scott , as well as the counter-revolutionaries writers, the French François-René de Chateaubriand and Louis de Bonald and the Savoyard Joseph de Maistre . In the United States, the Federalist Party and its leaders, such as President John Adams and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton , best represented Burke's legacy.

Coleridge, Carlyle, Newman and the "critics of material progress"

Burke's traditionalist conservatism found its fiercest defenders in three "cultural conservatives" and "critics of material progress": Samuel Taylor Coleridge , Thomas Carlyle and John Henry Newman .

According to traditionalist scholar Peter Viereck, Coleridge and his associate and fellow poet William Wordsworth began as supporters of the French Revolution and the radical utopianism it spawned. However, by 1798 their collection of poems, Lyrical Ballads had rejected the Enlightenment thesis of reason over faith and tradition. Coleridge's later writings, including Lay Sermons (1816), Biographia Literaria (1817) and Aids to Reflection (1825) justified traditional conservative positions on hierarchy and organic society, criticism of materialism and the merchant class, the need for "inner growth" that is rooted in a traditional and religious culture. Coleridge was a firm believer in social institutions and a harsh critic of Jeremy Bentham and his utilitarian philosophy.

Writer, historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle was also an early traditionalist thinker, defending medieval notions such as aristocracy, hierarchy, organic society and class unity over socialism and the "cash nexus" of laissez-faire capitalism . According to Carlyle, the "cash nexus" was when social relationships were merely reduced to economic gain. A champion of the poor, Carlyle believed that the fabric of British society was being threatened by mobs, plutocrats, socialists, and others who wanted to exploit them and perpetuate class resentment. A devotee of Germanic culture and Romanticism , Carlyle is most known for his writings Sartor Resartus (1833–1834) and Past and Present (1843).

In the mid-19th century, the Church of England experienced a "catholic revival" in the form of the Oxford Movement , a religious movement designed to restore the Catholic nature of Anglicanism. Led by John Keble , Edward Pusey and John Henry Newman , the Tractarians (so called for the publication of their Tracts for the Times ) condemned religious liberalism while defending "dogma, ritual, poetry, [and] tradition". Like Coleridge and Carlyle, Newman (who became a Roman Catholic in 1845 and eventually a Cardinal in the Church) and the Tractarians were critical of material progress, or the notion that wealth, prosperity and economic gain were the sum of human existence.

Arnold and Ruskin: cultural and artistic criticism

Culture and the arts were also important to British traditionalist conservatives and two of the most prominent defenders of tradition in culture and the arts were Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin .

Matthew Arnold , a poet and cultural critic, is best known for his poetry and literary, social and religious criticism. His book Culture and Anarchy (1869) took on the middle-class Victorian values of the day (Arnold viewed middle class tastes in literature as " philistinism ") and argued for a return to the classical literature of the past. Arnold also viewed with skepticism the plutocratic grasping in socioeconomic affairs which Coleridge, Carlyle and the Oxford Movement criticized.

One of the themes that traditionalist conservatives have consistently reiterated has been the theme that industrial capitalism is as questionable as the classical liberalism which spawned it. Carrying on in this tradition was cultural and artistic critic John Ruskin , a medievalist who called himself a "Christian socialist" and cared much for standards in culture, the arts, and society. For Ruskin (as with all the 19th-century cultural conservatives), the Industrial Revolution had fomented dislocation, rootlessness and the mass urbanization of the poor. In his art criticism he wrote The Stones of Venice (1851–1853), which took on the Classical tradition while defending Gothic art and architecture. His other works included The Seven Lamps of Architecture and Unto This Last (1860).

Benjamin Disraeli and "one-nation conservatism"

In politics, the ideas of Burke, Coleridge, Carlyle, Newman and other traditionalist conservatives were distilled into the policies and philosophy of former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli . Disraeli in his younger years was an opponent of middle class capitalism and the industrial policies that were promoted by the "Manchester liberals" (the Reform Bill and the Corn Laws). Seeking a way to alleviate the suffering of the urban poor in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, Disraeli sought out to unify the nation by way of " One Nation Conservatism ", where a coalition of aristocrats and the common working man would unite to stave off the influences of the liberal middle class. This new coalition would serve as a way to work with the enfranchised masses while grounding them in "ancient conservative traditions". Disraeli's ideas (including his criticism of utilitarianism ) found fruit in the "Young England" movement and in writings such as "Vindication of the English Constitution" (1835), "The Radical Tory" (1837) and his "social novels" Coningsby (1844) and Sybil (1845). A few years later his "One Nation Conservatism" found new life in the "Tory Democracy" of Lord Randolph Churchill and in the early 21st century in the "Progressive Conservatism" of the Red Tory thesis of British philosopher Phillip Blond .

The distributists

In the early 20th century, traditionalist conservatism found its defenders through the efforts of Hilaire Belloc , G. K. Chesterton and other proponents of the socioeconomic system they advocated: distributism . Originating in the papal encyclical Rerum novarum , distributism employed the concept of subsidiarity as a "third way" solution to the twin evils of socialism and capitalism. It favors local economies, small business, the agrarian way of life and craftsmen and artists. In such books as Belloc's The Servile State (1912), Economics for Helen (1924) and An Essay on the Restoration of Property (1936) and Chesterton's The Outline of Sanity (1926), traditional communities that echoed those found in the Middle Ages were advocated and big business and big government condemned. In the United States, distributist ideas were embraced by the journalist Herbert Agar , Catholic activist Dorothy Day and through the influence of the German-born British economist E. F. Schumacher and were comparable to the work of Wilhelm Roepke.

T. S. Eliot was a champion of the Western tradition and orthodox Christian culture. Eliot was a political reactionary who used modernist literary means for traditionalist ends. His After Strange Gods (1934) and Notes towards the Definition of Culture (1948) align with the grand tradition of Christian humanism extending back to Edmund Burke , Samuel Taylor Coleridge , Thomas Carlyle , John Ruskin , G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc . Educated by Irving Babbitt and George Santayana at Harvard University, Eliot was friends with Allen Tate and Russell Kirk .

Praised by T. S. Eliot as the most powerful intellectual influence in Britain, historian Christopher Dawson is a key figure in 20th-century traditionalism. Central to his work was the idea that religion was at the heart of every culture, especially Western culture and his writings, including The Age of Gods (1928), Religion and Culture (1948) and Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (1950), reflected this view. A contributor to Eliot's Criterion , Dawson believed that after World War II, religion and culture were central to rebuilding the West in the wake of fascism and the rise of communism .

Traditionalism in Britain and Europe


Although not a conservative, many traditionalist conservatives embrace the virtue-centered philosophy of British Roman Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre , who is noted for his many books, including After Virtue (1981).

Another British philosopher, Roger Scruton , is a self-described traditionalist conservative. Known for writing on such topics as foreign policy, animal rights, arts and culture and philosophy, one of his most noted books is The Meaning of Conservatism (1980). Scruton is affiliated with the Center for European Renewal , the Trinity Forum , the Institute for the Psychological Sciences and the American Enterprise Institute . He writes for such publications as Modern Age (periodical) , National Review , The American Spectator , The New Criterion , and City Journal .

Recently British philosopher Phillip Blond has risen to prominence as an exponent of traditionalist philosophy, more specifically progressive conservatism, or Red Toryism . In Blond's view, Red Toryism would combine civic communitarianism with localism and traditional values as a way to revitalize British conservatism and British society. He has formed a think tank, .


The oldest traditionalist conservative publication in the United Kingdom is the Salisbury Review , which was founded by British philosopher Roger Scruton . The Salisbury Review ' s current managing editor is Merrie Cave.

Political organizations

Within the British Conservative Party there is a faction of traditionalist MPs which formed in 2005 who are collectively known as the Cornerstone Group . The Cornerstone Group stands for traditional values and represents "faith, flag, and family". Prominent members include Edward Leigh and John Henry Hayes .

European organizations

The Edmund Burke Foundation is an educational foundation based out of the Netherlands which is traditionalist and is modeled after the Intercollegiate Studies Institute . Originally a think tank, it was founded by such traditionalists as scholar Andreas Kinneging and journalist Bart Jan Spruyt . It is affiliated with The Center for European Renewal .

In 2007, a number of leading traditionalist scholars from Europe as well as representatives of the Edmund Burke Foundation and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute created the Center for European Renewal , which is designed to be the European version of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute .

Traditionalism in the United States

Other traditionalist organizations

Other traditionalist organizations include the Trinity Forum , Ellis Sandoz 's Eric Voegelin Institute and the Eric Voegelin Society, the New Centurion Program of the Conservative Institute, the T. S. Eliot Society, the Malcolm Muggeridge Society and the Free Enterprise Institute's Center for the American Idea. A major funder of traditionalist programs, especially the Russell Kirk Center, is the Wilbur Foundation.

Literary traditionalists

Literary traditionalist are often linked with political conservatives and the right-wing , while contrasted with experimental works and the avant-garde , which in turn are often linked with progressives and the left-wing . Postmodern writer and literary theorist John Barth , said: "I confess to missing, in apprentice seminars in the later 1970s and the 1980s, that lively Make-It-New spirit of the Buffalo Sixties. A roomful of young traditionalists can be as depressing as a roomful of young Republicans".

There are numerous literary figures featured in Russell Kirk 's The Conservative Mind (1953), including James Fenimore Cooper , Nathaniel Hawthorne , James Russell Lowell , W. H. Mallock , Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot . In Kirk's The Conservative Reader (1982), the writings of Rudyard Kipling and Phyllis McGinley are featured as examples of literary traditionalism. Kirk was also known himself as a writer of supernatural and suspense fiction with a distinct Gothic flair. Novels such as Old House of Fear , A Creature of the Twilight and Lord of the Hollow Dark and short stories such as "Lex Talionis", "Lost Lake", "Beyond the Stumps", "Ex Tenebris" and "Fate's Purse" gained praise from fiction writers such as Ray Bradbury and Madeleine L'Engle . Kirk was also good friends with many literary figures of the 20th century: T. S. Eliot , Roy Campbell , Wyndham Lewis , Ray Bradbury , Madeleine L'Engle and Flannery O'Connor , most of whom could be labeled traditionalist in their poetry or fiction.

The British novelist and traditionalist Catholic Evelyn Waugh is often considered a traditionalist conservative.



Noted figures


American statesmen

Australian statesmen

British statesmen

Canadian statesmen

Philosophers and scholars

Literary figures

Religious figures

Journalists and commentators

See also


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