Conservatism in Historical Perspectives

In looking again at my earlier post, “The Non-Conservative Mind of Donald Trump”, it occurred to me that the article lacked some of the important historical perspectives necessary for appreciating how someone as liberal as President Trump can pass as a conservative. If I can be forgiven in advance for painting with a very broad brush, I would like to survey the evolution of conservatism from Burke to Trump, as a supplement to the comments I made previously in my articles “The Republican Retreat to Identity Politics” and “Trump and the Eclipse of Conservatism” and “The Non-Conservative Mind of Donald Trump.”

WWI put an end to the remaining vestiges of the old order, a bloody climax to the French Revolution.

The origin of conservative politics goes back to Edmund Burke’s response to the French Revolution. Nothing describes the French Revolution better than the adage “When Paris sneezes, the rest of Europe catches a cold.” As the revolutionary spirit gradually spread through all of Europe during the nineteenth-century, the result was that monarchy after monarchy collapsed. Ancient systems, structures and norms were not reformed but wiped away, usually replaced by tyrannies far more destructive than the ones that had preceded them. Finally, WWI put an end to the remaining vestiges of the old order.

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The True Meaning of Conservatism

In the first chapter of The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk condenses conservative thought down to the following six canons. It is important to realize that these six canons are not merely Kirk’s opinion of what conservatism is or should be, but an historical observation of what have been common themes in conservative thinkers ever since the movement started with Edmund Burke’s response to the French Revolution.

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The Non-Conservative Mind of Donald Trump

A few weeks ago I got into a friendly argument with friends at church about whether President Trump is a liberal or conservative. I said that Trump was a liberal while my friends said that he was a conservative.

Today, as I went to vote in the midterms, I thought back to our conversation at church. I found myself wondering if perhaps Trump is actually “conservative” but in a new sense. Perhaps we are seeing a metamorphosis of what it means to be conservative, as the classic conservativism of thinkers like Russell Kirk and Edmund Burke recedes into anachronism.
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