Chameleon conservatives

Do conservatives believe in conservatism, or is conservatism whatever conservatives happen to believe? I think commenter Ken Nielsen is right when he says ‘“conservative” means different things to different people in different countries.’ In the very useful introduction to his book Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought from David Hume to the Present, Jerry Muller says:

..conservatives have, at one time or place or another, defended royal power, constitutional monarchy, artistocratic preregotative, representative democracy, and presidential dictatorship; high tariffs and free trade; nationalism and internationalism; centralism and federalism; a society of inhereted estates, a capitalist, market democracy, and one or another version of the welfare state. …

You get the picture. John Howard fits into this – constitutional monarchy, free trade, soft nationalism, centralism, a capitalist, market democracy and a welfare state – but he could have had contrary ideas without threatening his status as a ‘conservative’. Unlike liberals, conservatives are not committed to a particular set of state institutions.
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