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The historical meaning of political conservatism by Miguel A. Faria, MD

“A Conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’ “
— William F. Buckley, Jr.

In the context of my article on this subject,[1] I have been asked if there is also a classical versus modern conservatism paradigm similar to the classical versus modern liberalism, and was invited to write an article about the subject.

In response, let’s say that in such a context, there is no such classification of classical versus modern conservatism, as there is with liberalism; although there are various alleged forms of conservatism that, like liberalism, varies somewhat from country to country and can be defined and characterized in general terms:

Conservatism is the political philosophy that seeks to preserve traditional social and religious institutions of Western culture and civilization deemed desirable, if not sacrosanct, and seeking to maintain stability, law, and order, while at the same time limiting the power of government, as to preserve the natural rights — i.e., life, liberty and property — of the individual, as to allow him freely to pursue happiness without impinging on the rights or property of others.

I have written two articles that expound on this topic from a historic and philosophic perspective.[2,3] Thus defined, the affinity of classical liberalism to modern conservatism becomes clearly obvious and indisputable.[1]

Today, the two most fashionable brands of conservatism are paleoconservatism (or Paleocon), which in its essence is mainstream conservatism perhaps with a streak of reaction associated with a nostalgic yearning to return to a better past; and a newer brand of semi-conservatism, a curious historical offshoot of Trotskyism (international socialism), coined neoconservatism. Discussions about these terms appear in the political science literature. Wikipedia has lengthy articles on conservatism and liberalism that unfortunately are too long and tendentious, tending to obscure and confuse rather than clarify and elucidate. My personal observations, though, come not only from having actually lived in a country that underwent political and social transformation due to revolution, in which, incidentally, my own family participated, and living under communism; but also from years of study on the subject since the time I was 13 years old,[4] studies that continue to this day.

Neoconservatism (or Neocon) is more of an academic than a popular grassroots movement. As mentioned, it stemmed from the left side of the political spectrum,[5,6,7] originally opposed to the discarded “socialism in one country” concept of Stalinism,[8] led but not exclusively so by influential Jewish-American intellectuals, many of the them former members of the Trotskyite movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which transformed itself into anti-Soviet liberalism during the 1950s through the 1970s. The movement flourished in the 1980s with the infusion of the so-called “Reagan Democrats” into the GOP and became a force within the Republican Party at the time of the administrations of George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) and George W. Bush (2001-2009). The main emphasis since the 1990s has been the projection of American power to foster social democracy abroad, especially in the Middle East, and to staunchly support the war against Islamic terrorism and ISIS. On the domestic front, Neocons have supported the status quo of the social welfare system and the use of government to institute socioeconomic policies that could be construed as creeping, if not overt, socialism.

One of the most influential political magazines of the Neoconservative movement is The Weekly Standard founded by Irving Kristol (1920-2009), also one of the founders of the Neocon movement along with Norman Podhoretz (1930-), his wife Midge Decter (1927-), and their son John Podhoretz. Bill Kristol, son of the founder, now edits the magazine. Some of the Neocons became in the end philosophical paleoconservatives like Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Dick Cheney, and John Bolton; others like Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz have continued their ambivalent, dual message, accepting some form of utilitarian social welfare at home and promoting the spread of social democracy abroad and staunchly defending the state of Israel and the war on terror. Wikipedia has informative articles on Neoconservatism and some of the personalities mentioned in this commentary.

It should be restated Paleoconservatism and Neoconservatism remain on the academic sidelines to the mainstream modern conservatism espoused by conservative Republicans in the United States[6]. The movement espoused by conservative Republicans was kindled in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan, kept alive by House Republicans during the 1990s, and reignited once again most notably with Sarah Palin and the election of a slate of young GOP conservatives (inspired by the Tea Party movement) to the House and Senate. They include such political dynamos as Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Marco Rubio (R- FL). These Tea Party conservatives carry the torch of undiluted conservatism opposing the liberal Democratic policies of the Obama administration.

It should be mentioned that in the USSR, as Soviet power consolidated itself in the 20th century, a semantic mirror image took place as the communist nomenklatura became the “conservatives” supporting the collectivist-totalitarian status quo, and the “liberals” became the dissidents supporting democracy and an open society, at least in media parlance. The terms continue to be used as such even in modern Russia but they have little to do with the Anglo-American terms discussed in this article.

The old conservatism of the Enlightenment era that supported mercantilism and the divine rights of kings received successive deathblows with the Glorious Revolution in 1689, the complete victory of the Whig Party with the Hanoverian succession (1714), the French Revolution (1789-1795), the turmoil of World War I (1914-1918), and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Modern conservatism was founded by Edmund Burke (1729-1797), derived from the classical liberalism of the British Whigs, as discussed in my previous article.[1] By the turn of the 20th century, conservatism was not battling the classical liberalism it co-opted but modern liberalism, progressivism, and socialism, which were attempting to control the labor movement both in the U.S and Great Britain.

The end result of modern liberalism, unrestrained by the freedom with responsibility that comes with conservatism, has led to untold mayhem, police state terror, desolation, and destruction as we witnessed in the 20th century in the Soviet Union (the USSR Gulag Archipelago), Nazism in Germany (National Socialism), China (Mao’s Cultural Revolution), Cambodia (Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge), Cuba (firing squads), and the over 100 million hapless victims of international communism![10,11] 


1. Faria MA. The Enlightenment — A triumph of classical not modern liberalism!, September 29, 2015. Available from:

2. Faria MA. Religious morality (and secular humanism) in Western civilization as precursors to medical ethics: A historic perspective. Surg Neurol Int 2015;6:105. Available from:

3. Faria MA. A defense of Western culture and civilization without apologies., November 16, 2014. Available from:

4. Faria MA. Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). Hacienda Publishing, Macon, GA. Review available from:

5. Faria MA. The Political Spectrum (Part I): The totalitarian left from Communism to Social Democracy., September 28, 2011. Available from:

6. Faria MA. The Political Spectrum (Part II) — The Center: A Democracy or a Constitutional Republic?, October 14, 2011. Available from:

7. Faria MA. The Political Spectrum (Part III) — The Extreme Right: Anarchism., October 21, 2011. Available from:

8. Faria MA. Stalin, Communists, and fatal statistics. The Macon Telegraph, January 8, 2012. Available from:

9. Faria MA. Classical Liberalism vs Modern Liberalism (Socialism) — A Primer., May 21, 2012. Available from:

10. Rummel RJ. Death by Government. Piscataway, NJ, Transaction Publishers, 1994.

11. Courtois S, Werth N, Panne JL, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1999.

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria Jr., M.D. is Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International. He is a former Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery and Adjunct Professor of Medical History. Dr. Faria is the author of Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). He has written numerous articles on the blessings of liberty and the venalities of totalitarianism, collectivism, and communism — all posted at his website:

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. The historical meaning of political conservatism., October 4, 2015. Available from:

Copyright ©2015 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

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5 thoughts on “The historical meaning of political conservatism by Miguel A. Faria, MD”

  1. Food for thought Today —In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” — FDR

    “A hand from Washington will be stretched out and placed on every man; business; the eye of the federal inspector will be in every man’s counting house…the law will of necessity have inquisitional features; it will provide penalties; it will create complicated machinery. Under it, men will be hauled into courts distant from their homes. Heavy fines imposed by distant and unfamiliar tribunals will constantly menace the taxpayer.”— Virginia House Speaker Richard E. Byrd, 1910. Forecasting the consequences for future generations if a national income tax was ever enacted. It was indeed implemented in 1913 (XVI Amendment), along with the Federal Reserve, and the XVII Amendment (i.e., the popular election of the US Senate that deprived the states of representation in the federal government).

    “Unless the people, through unified action, arise and take charge of their government, they will find that their Government has taken charge of them. Independence and liberty will be gone and the general public will find itself in a condition of servitude to an aggregation of organized and selfish ambitions.” — Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States (1903-1929,) with Alfred E. Smith. Joint statement issued on October 12, 1932.

    “The Nation that forgets its’ Defenders will be itself forgotten.” And “Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.” — Calvin Coolidge, Reagan’s favorite President.

    Our country has not been lucky…. It was decided to carry out this Marxist experiment on us… It has simply pushed us off the path the world’s civilized countries have taken…. In the end, we proved that there is no place for this idea.” After the fall of the Evil Empire, Boris Yeltsin, Moscow, June 1, 1991.

    “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909) Author of the classic, “The Man without a Country (1863).”

    “The direction of Plato’s thoughts was towards establishing the existence of two worlds: the world of appearances (or of Opinion) in which the ignorant are content to live, and the spiritual world (the world of Knowledge) which is the only home of the wise. “— Aubrey de Selincourt, The World of Herodotus, 1962, p. 344.

    Courage is the most important virtue because, without courage, it is impossible to practice the other virtues. − Aristotle
    A patriotic American is a vigilant and informed citizen, who knows that people band together to form governments only with their consent; that the function of government is to protect the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the sanctity of contracts, not entered by fraud or by force, and the right to self-defense and family protection. — Dr. Miguel Faria, America, Guns, and Freedom (2019) 😎

  2. The next election will help decide the following (at least the speed by which we travel in either direction? 

1) Reduce Government to its constitutional limits, which are actually summarized in the Declaration of Independence, sprinkled in the Bill of Rights, and specifically enumerated in the Constitution of these United States as to protect the self-evident, unalienable natural rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.  Every other unconstitutional law or act should be immediately rescinded. Should a limited government be provide with a 15% national sales tax, the abolition of the IRS, and the sale of all federal property not needed or unauthorized by the Constitution.

 2) The sanctity and validity of contracts (i.e., not entered by force or fraud) should be enforced.

 3) National defense and security should be provided for but not the policing of the world. 

4) The recent shenanigans of using the welfare and interstate commerce clauses as to justify socialism and destroy personal freedom should be rescinded. All laws made under these shenanigans should be immediately declared null and void by the Supreme Court. 

5) Every individual should be judged by personal merit only, not by race or color. So affirmative action should be ended. Work ethic and individual responsibility should be encouraged by equal opportunity, not equality of outcome. Charity should be encouraged via churches, charitable foundations, and social clubs, not by government, to help those truly in need.

 6) Education should be geared not only for preparation of future job entrance but also civic duty and responsibilities of citizenship. Voting requirements should be tighten with civics testing prior to voting. Citizenship requirements should be strengthened. The nation’s borders should be secured.

 7) Should this be done immediately “to secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our Posterity” and prevent the collapse of this great country? 
8) The Republicans with all their weak-kneed members are trying to do some of these things, while the socialist (illiberal) Democrats, with the help of the lapdog liberal media, the increasingly uneducated masses of sheep voters, and the elite, left-wing political establishment are doing just the opposite. 
9) Don’t hold your breath for these reforms to take place in the near future in a vacuum; the informed and vigilant citizens must take charge and force their representatives to do so!

 10) And forget utopias, right or left varieties. Brook farm was the only “genuine” one, and it didn’t work; Henry David Thoreau left his cherished Walden Pond with incipient tuberculosis, and what followed in the 20th century were the workers’ paradises of the Soviet Union (20-40 million democide), Red China (40 million democide). Where do you stand?

  3. For those who claim that there is no difference in the Political Parties, which when discussed in political circles, plays into the hands of the socialist Democrats. And at the risk of losing FB friends, as with denouncing Putin, here is my answer: There is a huge difference between the parties on every issue: Corruption galore in the Democrat (socialist) Party; wealth redistribution; control of peoples’ lives; liberty vs servitude to the mighty State; gun control; hatred of Christianity; hatred of tradition and traditional institutions, including the Constitution (the “living document” which is of course the complete opposite); use of deception, lies and disinformation, etc. . Of course you know all of this!

    I have also heard, “the GOP “don’t standup to their principles. I agree with the Republican platform, but they don’t stand up when it counts.” I reply: That Republicans fear the electorate, once informed citizens now a duped populace easily incited by the liberal media, the deteriorated public school system, the degenererate popular culture, and Marxist higher academia, “Platos’ guardians” — all part and parcel of the establishments of the left, and all of them support the Democrat (socialist) Party, which, does not have to kowtow to them and, of course, makes them formidable and fearless!

    The GOP, on the other hand, is frankly intimidated, as they should be to some extent, because the stupid and fickle electorate can go one way or the other based on PC indoctrination and disinformation. A Republic was founded for an honest, informed and vigilant electorate. Even this has been eroded by the public school system and media propaganda. Yes we need to get rid of RINOs who are indeed traitors, but not rank and file Republicans with whom we may disagree from time to time because we don’t agree with them on every issue; after all they had to respond to THEIR constituents in the various states, which vary in conservative intensity.

    While ALL DEMOCRATS today are socialists because there is no pressure on them from the establishment (swamp). The Two Party system in America is here to stay, whether we like it or not, as Americans have demonstrated over the last two centuries. Parties may replace each other but always end up with two opposing principal political parties. And frankly, I prefer it to the Parliamentary system (social democracy) of Europe. I think I have said enough.This should entitled me for a free ticket to the GOP convention in 2024 to elect either Trump or DeSantis! —MAF

  4. Those who control the past, control the future, ask the Democrats, communists, and wanna-be tyrants or tyrants!

    Here is an old conversation about this:

    Palemoon: “The most basic definition in political science of liberal and conservative is liberals want change, conservatives want things left alone. Nowadays, the meaning of both have been so misused, abused, and redefined that I still have no idea what conservatism…”

    Dr. Miguel Faria: Let’s leave it at that so we can agree. Let me just tell you what conservatism means to me and various principled conservative statesmen—e.g., Edmund Burke, G.K. Chesterton, Benjamin Disraeli, Robert Taft, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, etc. Conservatism is really concerned with the preservation of the traditions, laws, and institutions that have proven to work and the discard of those that don’t. Liberals want to remake the world into their own image and care not for the process of distillation of knowledge that comes from trial and error and experience.

    Liberal socialists (classical liberals of yore are either conservatives or Libertarians today) believe in the Platonic ideal of the building of a perfect utopia from scratch and the creation of a “new socialist man,” the novus homo, a creature molded completely from his environment. Che Guevara believed that in 1959; he was not so sure by 1965. Fidel Castro knew better and send him on his way to Bolivia to his death.

    Omar Khayyam as far back as the 11th century could not have stated it better in his Rubaiyat poem:

    Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
    To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
    Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
    Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

    But the creation of a new socialist paradise here on earth has proven an impossible dream. In fact, it has been a nightmarish catastrophe when in the 20th century 100 million people were systematically killed by their own governments in the collectivist dystopias of the USSR and Eastern Europe, North Korea, China, Nazi (National Socialist) Germany, Cambodia, and Cuba.

    Why? They destroyed (“shattered societies to bits”) and then attempted to rebuild society to their heart’s desire! Show me where this socialist experiment has worked. Show me a socialist or a communist revolution, and I will show you violence, death, and a failed revolution as well as a failed society!—Dr. Miguel Faria

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