A conservative is one who adheres to principles of limited government, personal responsibility and moral virtue. He or she may agree with the statement in George Washington's Farewell Address that "religion and morality are indispensable supports" to political prosperity. Conservatism arose in the 19th century as a response to liberalism, particularly as manifested in the French Revolution.
What is a Conservative?
Jonah Goldberg wrote a excellent piece on this in National Review Which is quoted, in part, below...
"In the United States, conservatives are generally characterized by the following beliefs:
- 1. A deep suspicion of the power of the state.
- 2. A preference for liberty over equality.
- 3. Patriotism.
- 4. A belief in established institutions and hierarchies.
- 5. Skepticism about the idea of progress.
- 6. Elitism.
Points 2, 4, 5, and 6 run obviously counter to the idea that things can ever be perfectly harmonious. Preferring liberty over equality means preferring inequalities in some circumstances. Acceptance of established institutions and hierarchies is obviously anathema to those seeking an organic balance where everyone fulfills their destiny equally and happily. Ditto acceptance of elitism, which is simply the belief that at the end of the day there are some people who are going to be better at a given thing than other people, and education, welfare, and other “interventions” by the state won’t change that. In other words, point 1. As for point 5, this runs against the grain of Hegel-based worldviews that assume that merely ripping pages off a calendar gets us closer to the eschatological kewpie doll at the End of Days.
All that leaves is point 3, patriotism. Now, patriotism and nationalism are very different things and there are many people on the right and left who think nationalism is definitionally conservative or right-wing. This is nonsense on very tall stilts. Patriotism, however is merely the devotion to a set of ideals, rooted in history, and attached to a specific place. And once again we are spun back to Hayek. To a certain extent patriotism is conservatism, in the same way that being a Christian involves some level of conservatism. It is a devotion to a set of principles set forth in the past and carried forward to today and, hopefully, tomorrow. (I wish it weren’t necessary to point out that this is a non-partisan point: Patriotic liberals are holding dear some aspects of our past as well.) What we call patriotism is often merely the content we use to fill-up the amoral conservatism discussed above. Axiomatically, if you are unwilling to conserve any of the institutions, customs, traditions, or principles inherent to this country you simply aren’t patriotic (and, as a side note, the more you think the U.N. is the savior of the world, the less patriotic you are."
In the United Kingdom the present parliamentary opposition party is called the Conservative party and as it's name suggests hold traditional conservative views. Its current leader is David Cameron.