What is conservatism? Is it distinct from liberalism—that is, is conservatism a body of ideas contrary to liberalism, or is it a branch of liberalism? In other words, is conservatism in fact an “ism”? What are the fundamental differences between conservative and liberal perspectives today? Is conservatism the most significant challenge to the liberal idea today, or its erstwhile ally?
This course will explore these and related questions, such as the range of conservative perspectives on human nature, authority, religion, social change and progress, science and technology, race and ethnicity, economics and markets, equality, individual rights, the State and civil society, and ethics. The first half of the course will explore the philosophical, historical, and trans-Atlantic roots of conservative philosophy and social thought before turning to the specifically American variants of conservatism. The subdivisions of modern conservatism—libertarianism, traditional/“paleo,” neoconservatism, religious conservatism, etc.—will be defined and contrasted with each other.
The second half of the course will transition to contemporary issues of social policy, the debates over economics, “neoliberalism,” equality, race, sex, class, national identity, immigration, and social justice. Ultimately the course is about what it means to be a free human being, and what are the requirements and institutions of a free society that support a free human being.
Instructor: Steven F. Hayward