Buckley defined Conservatism through the metaphor of a man standing on the train tracks of history, yelling ‘stop!’. Scruton defined Conservatism as the stewardship of the beautiful, in a particular way of life. The intuition expressed in both definitions is sound. For Conservatism to mean anything, then it must include the preservation or conservation of something important. Scruton is closer to that mark than Buckley is, because he’s closer to a fundamental principle than Buckley is.
I want to suggest an idea from an observation that’s been made many times before. Namely, that what the modern center-left now likes to call “classical” and/or “social” Liberalism, is a muddle of two strains of thought in the Enlightenment, that both stand in opposition to Rousseau; but that the latter strain smuggles him back in through the kitchen door. The division in the Enlightenment between Rousseau and Hobbes is so famous it’s practically a cliché at this point.
Shelby Steele, Shame: How America's Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country [The modern left] and I come from two very different Americas. The shorthand for these two Americas might be “liberal” and “conservative,” but this would indeed be a shorthand. These labels once signified something much less incendiary than they do today; they were opposing political orientations, but they shared a common national identity. One was conservative or liberal but within a fairly non-contentious cultural understanding of what it meant to be American.
Traditionally, there are two great debates at the core of political philosophy. The first is what justifies political authority, and the second is what should be the form of the institution that assumes that authority. The first debate includes questions of fundamental justice. Issues like what the state owes to its subjects, and what the subjects owe to each other, are central to the debate. The second debate depends somewhat on the answer to the first, in that it seeks to answer how the duties, obligations, rights, and responsibilities of the first debate are to be enacted and enforced.
From: “Up From Liberalism” (1959), William F. Buckley, Jr. There is no conservative political manifesto which, as we make our faltering way, we can consult, confident that it will point a sure finger in the direction of the good society. Indeed, sometimes the conservative needle appears to be jumping about as on a disoriented compass… …Still, for all the confusion and contradiction, I venture to say it is possible to talk about “the conservative position” and mean something by it.
The following passage is a section from the introduction to Robert Bork’s famous 1996 book, “Slouching Toward Gomorrah”. Modern liberalism is very different in content from the liberalism of, say, the 1940s or 1950s, and certainly different from the liberalism of the last century. The sentiments and beliefs that drive it, however, are the same: the ideals of liberty and equality. These ideals produced the great political, social, and cultural achievements of Western civilization, but no ideal, however worthy, can be pressed forever without turning into something else, turning in fact into its opposite.