Conservatism quotes

One of the nicest things about playing chess and go is the distilled wisdom that is taught in the form of proverbs, eg. at Sensei’s library. Nifty quotes are in general a good way to organise understanding, because they are memorable, and thought and understanding require things to be actively in your memory, not on your bookshelf or on the Internet (this is one reason I think schools should not give up on teaching facts).

So I try to collect quotes about various topics of interest to me. I like to say these days that my meta-politics is pluralism, my policy-politics is liberal, and my nature, temperament and political philosophy are conservative. I think liberalism is pretty well understood, but pluralism and conservatism are in need of explanation and advocacy. So here is my small collection of quotes about conservatism, and some “conservative warnings”, that convey a lot of what conservatism means to me. They aren’t as compact as go proverbs, but still short enough to get read, which is the important thing.

Conservatives believe that people are inherently imperfect and are prone to act badly when all constraints and accountability are removed. Our reasoning is flawed and prone to overconfidence, so it’s dangerous to construct theories based on pure reason, unconstrained by intuition and historical experience. Institutions emerge gradually as social facts, which we then respect and even sacralize, but if we strip these institutions of authority and treat them as arbitrary contrivances that exist only for our benefit, we render them less effective. We then expose ourselves to increased anomie and social disorder.

–Jonathan Haidt

To be conservative is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the impossible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, the present laughter to the utopian bliss.

–Michael Oakeshott

This next one is not usually seen as conservative, but certainly 100% of conservatives would agree with it:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

–James Madison

Every man is conservative about what he knows best.

–Robert Conquest

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

–G. K. Chesterton

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.


If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.

–Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Laws do not exist to place official blessing on things that everyone agrees upon anyway, but to compromise between groups with sharply differing interests.

–the danimal

Political correctness is the means by which we try to control others; decency is the means by which we try to control ourselves.

Source lost, maybe Thomas Szasz?

In The Social Contract Rousseau condemned the cosmopolitan as someone who “pretends to love the whole world in order to have the right to love no one.”

I submitted some of my own liberal-conservative slogans that were used by the fizzled-out attempt at reforming the old Finnish liberal party known as Edistyspuolue, here’s one:

Democracy is a good way to decide on what we must do commonly, but not everything must be done commonly.


Perhaps requires some elucidation, which shows that I’m still a beginner at this.