Conservatism on Human Nature
Posted by Nicole Berry on April 16, 2010
Conservatism as an ideology is reactionary. It emerged in the 18th century to oppose the new ideas brought about by liberals. Thus, we can immediately deduce that conservatives have a pessimistic view of human nature. However, it is not quite that straightforward.
Early conservatives believed that human nature is ever-changing. To base one’s principles on this inconstant would lead to a flawed philosophy; hence the rejection of dogmatic principles and doctrines, and a preference for pragmatism, following the changing demands of society as they come. Therefore early conservatives denied that conservatism was an ideology at all.
However, Traditional Conservatives demonstrated a belief in original sin. People are blemished from birth, are subsequently irrational, and ultimately imperfectible. Consequently, conservatives believe it is necessary for the state to act as a paternal figure, watching over society and morally, economically and socially guiding people. The state needs to be strong to avoid life becoming ‘nasty, brutish and short’ (as described by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan.)
In the 20th Century ‘Thatcherism’ arrived. This developed new ideas about human nature, believing that humans were capable of rational thought in the economic sphere, yet not in the moral/social field. New Right thinkers, and Thatcher herself, called for a strong authoritarian state in terms of law and order, yet minimal state interference in the economy. Thatcher’s assured analysis of society and human nature allowed for this apparently contradictory role of the state (known as the ‘Paradox of the New Right’) to be put into practice, and opened up the doors for dogmatic principles to flood into conservatism.