What is Conservatism?
In February 1965, The Philadelphia Society held its first national meeting in Chicago, Illinois, to address the topic, The Future of Freedom: The Problems and the Prospects. Several of the inaugural meeting’s speakers reiterated the positions they had articulated in essays published in What is Conservatism? brought out by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in the previous year.
In his introductory editorial essay to the book, Frank Meyer articulated the semantic and substantive challenges to the adoption of “conservative” to describe the growing coalition of individuals opposed to totalitarianism and collectivism. Meyer identified two streams of thought—the traditionalist and the libertarian—that could “be united within a single broad conservative political theory, since they have their roots in a common tradition and are arrayed against a common enemy.” The respective ends of these positions—virtue and freedom —were both essential to Meyer’s “conscious” conservatism that embraced “reason operating within tradition.”
Meyer’s fellow contributors, including Russell Kirk advocating for the traditionalist perspective and Friedrich Hayek promoting the libertarian (then “Classical Liberal”) perspective, voiced concerns over Meyer’s formulation and distrust of one other’s philosophy.
Despite ongoing tensions, Meyer’s philosophic formulation held together a political movement and political coalition for fifty years. Today, the coalition of those opposed to collectivism and the Leviathan State are searching for an articulation of the shared beliefs and animating principles that can renew the movement to expand individual freedom and promote human flourishing within a healthy and humane society. Our Fall 2018 meeting will thus seek to revisit the question, “What is Conservatism?”