For two hundred years, conservatism has defied its reputation as a backward-looking creed by confronting and adapting to liberal modernity. By doing so, the Right has won long periods of power and effectively become the dominant tradition in politics. Yet, despite their success, conservatives have continued to fight with each other about how far to compromise with liberalism and democracy—or which values to defend and how. In Conservatism, Edmund Fawcett provides a gripping account of this conflicted history, clarifies key ideas, and illuminates quarrels within the Right today.
Focusing on the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, Fawcett’s vivid narrative covers thinkers and politicians. They include the forerunners James Madison, Edmund Burke, and Joseph de Maistre; early friends and foes of capitalism; defenders of religion; and builders of modern parties, such as William McKinley and Lord Salisbury. The book chronicles the cultural critics and radical disruptors of the 1920s and 1930s, recounts how advocates of laissez-faire economics broke the post 1945 consensus, and describes how Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and their European counterparts are pushing conservatism toward a nation-first, hard Right.
An absorbing, original history of the Right, Conservatism portrays a tradition as much at war with itself as with its opponents.
Edmund Fawcett worked at The Economist for more than three decades, serving as its chief correspondent in Washington, Paris, Berlin, and Brussels, as well as its European and literary editor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Statesman, and the Times Literary Supplement. He is the author of Liberalism: The Life of an Idea (Princeton).