What Is Conservatism, and What Isn’t? – An Examination


conservative cartoon


Readers who might expect here a scholarly, academic treatise on the topic given above will be disappointed. The author’s approach is rather an approach determined by common sense.



First, one should keep in mind the famous saying coined by ancient Roman playwright Terence, “Quot capita, tot sententiae ,” meaning: as many heads, so many opinions (or, judgments). This is nowhere truer than in the field of philosophy and political philosophy. Where there is no binding dogma and no absolute frame of reference, everybody has his own little, or not so little, version of the truth, and more often than not such “truths” collide with each other, exclude each other and even fight each other to the death. Indeed, the realm of ideas is a dangerous realm, where the greatest zeal can end in deserted lands and millions dead. The most staggering example in this regard has certainly been so-called communism. The devastating fruits of this ideology were neither an accident nor due to alleged aberrations from the “true gospel” of Karl Marx. The destruction, the mass killing, the misery had all been built into it right from the beginning. And even the many followers of communism who, for whatever unfortunate reasons, truly believed in their cause, as idealists, they were utterly and most monstrously wrong, too. In other words, right and wrong (ultimately: good and evil) aren’t fictions made up by some stubborn, unenlightened “bigots” (who, supposedly, “will never get it”), but are valid – even timelessly valid – categories by which to discern what to do and what not to do, both individually and as a society.

The word “conservatism” has only been around since the early 19th century. Which is significant. Its Latin root “conservare” means to preserve (or, transferred literally: to conserve). But why hadn’t there been a word like this before that time? The answer is a rather obvious one: the French Revolution, far beyond the borders of France, had changed everything. The old, eternal order, that had been resting since time immemorial on the thrones and altars, was suddenly under attack. The maxim “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!” was calling for a “new” humanity guided by new principles. Principles that fiercely rejected any monarchical claim or Papal authority. Down with the oppressors! Away with absolutes and hierarchies and that crooked set of superstitious beliefs known as Christendom! A fundamentally new civilisation was at hand, inspired by reason and brotherhood, equality and free thought and action. And the masses, as ever ignorant and gullible, were willing to follow those agitators and ultimately betrayed everything that represented the French nation, both in her essence and grandeur.



There is a mystical bond (Americans might have a problem with this) between monarch and people, and its basis is known as “divine right”. Such right is in no way a one-way street. Rather it characterises a relationship of mutual rights and obligations. The monarch looks after his nation, and the nation is loyal to him, both sides being firmly subjected to the rule of God. In fact, the relationship goes far beyond mere necessities or mutual dependence. The two are actually bound together in a bond of love. If torn apart, both sides experience very deep and very real phantom pain. The dethroned monarch longs back for his people, and the orphaned people – at least, once it comes to its senses – begins wholeheartedly longing again for its beloved and cherished king or emperor. These are not empty myths, and certainly the rightful position of a monarch has nothing to do with that of a ruthless totalitarian dictator who imposes his random will upon a helpless people that is caught and imprisoned in a system known as tyranny. Monarchy (exceptions aside) is not tyranny, just as absolutism is not totalitarianism!

It was, of all authors and intellectuals, famous Soviet dissident and novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918 – 2008) who most elegantly clarified this point. In November 1916: A Novel, one of Solzhenitsyn’s protagonists, a staunch monarchist of a medieval history professor by name of Olda Andozerskaya, wisely schools her pro-republican, pro-“social progress” discussion partners (indentations separating Andozerskaya’s elaborations from the rest, added by this author). Solzhenitsyn writes:

In educated Russian society, opinion is so slanted, leans so sharply to one side, that by no means every view may be expressed. A whole school of thought opposed to that particular slant is morally forbidden, not merely in lectures but in private conversation. And the more “liberated” the company, the more heavily this tacit prohibition weighs on it. Warned that “he’s a rightist, you know” – “no! a rightist?” – everyone recoils in horror. That man’s entitlement to live, to express opinions, is abruptly terminated. As though anyone could forego the use of his right hand, or buy only left-handed gloves. Only an innocent, charging in recklessly before he has found his feet, would lay about him as the colonel had today.

But it was because of him that Andozerskaya had plucked up her courage. In her academic milieu she lived under the constant pressure of this ban on thoughts unwelcome to “society.” She had to choose every word so carefully that she never dared speak her mind fully or directly. Vorotyntsev’s enviable freedom of expression had drawn her out. And with the company trickling away the risk was small: nothing could distract the eccentric engineer from his notebook, and his happy wife was not one of those suspicious-minded progressive ladies always spoiling for an argument. Flouting all the taboos, even the most inflexible (and foreseeing the colonel’s jubilation), she looked at each of them in turn through half-closed eyes and said laughingly,       

“You seem to have plumped for a republic in a hurry, gentlemen! How lightly you have rejected monarchy! Are you sure you aren’t just slaves to fashion? One person starts it, and the rest take up the parrot cry: the monarchy is the main obstacle to progress. And this is the distinctive characteristic by which we recognize ‘our side’: abuse of monarchy in the past, in the future, and at all times in the world’s history.”

Was she joking? Making fun of them? What wild nonsense was this? A professor of general history, in the twentieth century, defending … defending … not … “Au-toc-racy?” 

“That in particular. The slogan ‘Down with autocracy’ has blotted out the whole sky, clouded all minds. Autocracy is blamed for everything in Russia. But, historically, the word ‘autocrat’ means simply a ruler who does not pay tribute. A sovereign. It most certainly does not mean one who does just what he likes. True, he has plenary powers which he shares with no one, no other earthly authority limits him, he cannot be brought before any earthly tribunal, but he must answer to his own conscience and to God. And he must regard the limits imposed on his authority as sacrosanct, and observe them even more strictly than bounds drawn by a constitution.”

Obodovsky could not believe his ears. An educated person defending, loud and clear, the barbarous, benighted institution called autocracy? Surely the time was past when a single word could be said in its defense? In defense not just of monarchy in the abstract but of the Russian autocratic police state? Perhaps even of that particular Tsar. The mere thought of that incompetent nonentity of a Tsar so sickened Obodovsky that when their floating industrial exhibition was anchored off Constantinople, and the personnel were invited to a party by the Russian ambassador, that ragged, half-starved émigré refused to eat well for once so as not to have to drink the health of Nikolai II.

“But unlimited power is directed by the greed of timeserving courtiers and sycophants, not by conscience before God!” the engineer exclaimed. “Once it has deprived the people of freedom, autocracy grows stupid, becomes deaf, and cannot will what is for the general good, but only what is bad. At best it can only be rendered helpless by its own might. The history of all ruling houses, everywhere, and not just our own, is criminal!”

When Andozerskaya wanted to expound something seriously she always struck a characteristic pose, arching her small hands before her, and stroking one with the other.

“Yes, many peoples have been quick to raise their hands against their monarchs. And some have suffered irreparable loss. In Russia, where there is only a thin veneer of social awareness, it will be a long, long time before anyone thinks up anything better than monarchy.”

Obodovsky looked askance. Was she laughing at him? Trying to make a fool of him? “But look, monarchy means above all stagnation. How can anybody want his country to stagnate?”

“A cautious approach to the new, a conservative sentiment, does not mean stagnation. A farsighted monarch carries out reforms – but only those for which the time is ripe. He does not go at it mindlessly, as some republican governments do, maneuvering so as not to lose power. And it is the monarch who has the authority to carry out lasting and far-reaching reforms.”

“Are there any rational arguments in favor of monarchy in our age? Monarchy is a negation of equality. The negation of civic freedom!” 

“Why should it be?” Andozerskaya countered, unperturbed. “Both freedom and equality can perfectly well flourish under a monarchy.”

But she saw as yet no twitch of agreement on the colonel’s weather-beaten face. He was biding his time.

Wrinkling her small brow, summoning up all her strength (she wasn’t going to give way now that she’d started it), she spoke not in her oracular, professorial manner, but laying her sentences before them one by one, with the practiced skill of a housewife setting out polished knives on a tablecloth.         

“First, a firmly established line of succession saves a country from destructive rebellions. Second, with hereditary monarchy you don’t get periodic electoral turmoil, and political strife in the country is reduced. Republican elections weaken a government’s authority – they do not incline us to respect it: those who would govern have to truckle to us before the elections and work off their debt to us afterward. Whereas a monarch doesn’t have to make election promises. That’s number three. A monarch is able to strike an impartial balance. Monarchy is the spirit of national unity, whereas republics are inevitably torn by rivalries. That’s four. The personal power and prosperity of the monarch coincide with those of the country as a whole, and he is simply compelled to defend the national interest if only to survive. That’s five. For ethnically variegated multinational countries the monarch is the one binding force, the personification of unity. That’s six.”

She gave a little smile. The strong, broad-bladed table knives lay gleaming in parallel lines. She looked triumphantly at the colonel, expecting that he would no longer withhold his strong support. That they would now speak with one voice. But he remained silent, looking rather lost and uncertain of himself. Surely you agree with what I have just said? Why this hesitation? Out of place, isn’t it, in such a fine soldier, one of the few capable of command? Have I got something wrong? … Do you find it somehow funny? The roads you soldiers march along are not the only ones in life. There’s many a byroad, on the verge of many an abyss. Could a mountain cannon make its way along them? Or a packhorse? No, no, of course not! How could you possibly think so!

“How can you possibly count on its capacity for self-criticism?” the engineer cried. The thought of having to go over all his arguments again left him exhausted. “A monarch lives in a world of flattery. He is made to play the pitiful role of an idol. He lives in fear of subversion and conspiracy. What counselor can rely on logic to change the Tsar’s mind?”     

“To put your views across you have to change somebody’s mind – if not the monarch’s, that of your own party or those of a discordant public. Persuading a monarch is not the least bit more difficult and takes no longer than persuading the public. And would you deny that public opinion is often at the mercy of ignorance, passion, convenience, and vested interest? Don’t people try to flatter public opinion, and succeed all too well? Sycophancy has still more dangerous consequences in free politics than in absolute monarchies…”

What made her so attractive? That toss of the head and the self-assured glance that went with it? The taut line of the sensitive neck? The subtly seductive, melodious voice? If a packhorse couldn’t … how could anyone use that byroad? Nothing to it. Hold on to the folds of my dress. We’ll get through!

“And bowing to a monarch doesn’t go against the grain?” Obodovsky was trying to play on the most ordinary human feelings.   

“You always have to subordinate youself to somebody. If it’s a faceless and uninspiring electoral majority, why is that pleasanter? The Tsar himself is subordinate to the monarchy, even more than you are, he is its first servant.”

“But with a monarchy we are slaves! Do you like being a slave?” 

Andozerskaya proudly held her head at an unservile angle. “Monarchy does not make slaves of people; republics are more likely to depersonalize them. Whereas if you raise up an example of a man living only for the state, it ennobles the subject too.”

And so on and so forth.

The quote is meant to remind us of how far we have departed from what once was all but natural, and also logical. If one thinks about it, mass democracy, whether under a republic or under a constitutional monarchy, where the monarch is reduced to a mere figurehead, is the inevitable forerunner of communist collectivism. Which is why the communists never had a problem with the term “democracy,” even though “real socialism” has always been undemocratic without compromise (after all, it was the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, that either put dissenters against the wall or threw them into forced labour- and re-education camps). But democracy is the (or one very efficient) path, for them, to power! Hitler (who was also a socialist, albeit a “National Socialist”) didn’t come to power through violent revolution, but (like clear-as-the-blue-sky communist Obama) through “civilised” democratic elections. Once he was sworn in as Chancellor, it took less than a month for the Reichstag to go up in flames, a provocation by which the National Socialists were able to justify dissolving the German parliament altogether. The end result was then Hitler’s tyrannical one-party state. Democracy’s central idea “of one man, one vote,” from which everything else derives logically, is in fact a mere quantitative principle that fundamentally rejects differences in knowledge and qualification. Democracy denies hierarchy (which is why it MUST be not only laicist, but completely anti-God). So does socialism, which naturally flows out of democracy. Everything is the same. Everything is also, necessarily, equal (or neutral) in terms of morality. In fact, there is no longer a binding moral principle, no recognition of good and evil, in this system of democracy. As a consequence, insisting on distinction or superiority (let alone, the supremacy of God!) makes one “undemocratic”, “anti-social”, and ultimately an “enemy of the people”.



The so-called Age of Enlightenment (what an upside-down phrase!), that came to its macabre fruition in the French Revolution, represented a unique and completely unprecedented game changer in all of human history. Everything that had previously been a matter of course and taken for granted, was now being questioned and fought against. The revolutionaries were well aware of their “historic mission” and so, following their proclamation of the French Republic in September of 1792, they did away not only with the Christian year count, but even with the Bibilical seven-day week and would have introduced a new system of decimal “hours”, “minutes” and “seconds”, had the nationwide implementation of such an insane plan not proven too expensive. 


Under the pretext of “Reason”, this process of not only democratisation, but also radical secularisation threw the Christian world into an even greater crisis – and a permanent crisis, at that – than had been the case with the Reformation 250 years earlier. A madness had taken hold of France and the occidental world – a madness not entirely unknown to those who understood the workings of the Enemy, but nonetheless a madness now so strong and powerful that neither thrones nor altars were safe any longer. By conquering France, once the pinnacle and crown jewel of the Catholic world, the revolution also showed it would be able to conquer any other country with ease.

Ever since this cataclysmic event, not just the Christian nations, but the whole world understood more and more clearly that they were now in a permanent state of war. Threatened in their very foundations, they knew they had to defend themselves against this apocalyptic onslaught. The idea of conservatism, not as some lame and diffuse nostalgia, but as a vital question of life or death, was born.

Tragically, this war has turned out, for the most part, as a war in which only one side has been fighting. It’s been a constant and gradual surrender by instalments on the part of the conservatives. Worse, after decades, even centuries, of the most aggressive subversion, conservatives of today have essentially shed the overall concept of conserving, preserving the values and traditions and beauties of old. Without knowing, in most cases, they have been molded into the new, revolutionary paradigm. The consequences are catastrophic. All courage, all resolve appear now to be gone – or so twisted and confused that they serve not the cause of conservatism, but the enemy.

We look, in our current political debate, at all kinds of people who – at times, frivolously – advertise themselves as “conservatives”. But are they? What is it that they defend? What is it that they stand for? Do they practise what they preach? At a time of permanent, unrestricted, asymmetrical war, that needs dedicated, sincere, but also competent and knowledgable warriors: are these people the ones, to paraphrase Comrade Obama, we’ve been waiting for?

It may be an attractive career to be a “conservative” media icon giving eloquent speeches peppered with the most entertaining polemics. But if such conservative heroines (or “paleo-conservative” living monuments) don’t even remotely understand that the Russian bear of today is still the same deep-red communist bear as ever, what then are these “public figures” ultimately good for? Especially as the damage they do is twofold: They cannot see the beast for what it is, number one, and instead praise it as the new hope for Christian civilisation, number two! Maybe these people should stop writing books and start reading books instead!

Let’s not mince words here – and today we MUST expect from a true, valuable conservative to be “holier than the pope”, because, well, just look what has been going on in Rome ever since Pius XII was succeeded by “good pope” John XXIII:

If you are an attractive woman, blessed with all the talents and favours one could ever wish for, and have passed 50 without being married or having children, even openly admitting you prefer the high life of New York City to anything else, you may be a brilliant conservative speaker, but you are not a conservative.

If you are a cherished and renowned paleo-conservative icon, and you lack the discernment to see through the Kremlin’s ever-same pack of lies, expecting from these unchanged Bolsheviks a new Christian era, you are not a conservative, you may have been one once upon a time, but a fool.

If you hectically jet back and forth between the continents as the most colourful “conservative” the world has ever seen, and don’t even think of getting your private life straight, you are not a conservative, but an infiltrator.

If you are one of those proud “fiscal conservatives”/social liberals who think that it’s all the economy, you are delusional. As, without a solid cultural and spiritual base, also the material riches of a society are ultimately doomed.

If you are the “flexible” type, always open to all sides of an argument, any argument, you may be a good mediator, perhaps a good diplomat, or “bipartisan” politician, yet by the end of the day, you’re not a principled conservative, but a spineless opportunist. 

If you are of high nobility and live the superficial and decadent life of ordinary jet set folk, you are not conservative (which you have a responsibility to be), but a disgrace.

If you are proud of your fancy cowboy hat and your nice selection of rifles, but otherwise live in the world of hard rock music and drink like a fish, you may be a good and strong Midwest hooligan, but you are not a conservative.

If you confuse patriotism (which is love of country) with nationalism (which is mere chauvinism), you are going to be the Kremlin’s next cannon fodder, and you might never even realise how you were deceived. Learn about country, learn about God, learn about yourself! Until then, don’t call yourself a conservative!

If you sacrifice your children, whether in the womb (which is murder) or by putting them in day care, so to have your wonderful and splendid career, I’m not interested in what you say or do in your profession, as both of us know perfectly well where your place as a mother should be. So how could you ever be as bold as to call yourself a conservative?

If you are a newspaper man, whatever your “conservative” credentials may be, and you uncritically parrot the latest left-wing slogan, or climate “theory”, or disarmament fantasy, you are not a conservative, but a useful idiot.

If you are an art museum director, whatever respected in the community, and what you exhibit is chaotic and meaningless “modern art”, that cannot inspire, but only confuse, you are not a conservative, but a wilful agent of the revolution.

If you are Pope, and you praise Karl Marx in your encyclicals, having always been a great admirer of the French Revolution, you are – despite your “conservative” appearance – a dangerous wolf in sheep’s clothing – and you know it!  




© The Contemplative Observer 2018