It is my understanding that people on the right side of the political spectrum generally believe in individualism in the sense that they support smaller government and the right of individuals to make decisions for themselves.

Yet many conservatives also oppose individualistic choices when it comes to personal decisions, for example on the issues of legalized prostitution, abortion, and gay marriage.

How does conservatism address this dilemma?

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    Right now this is likely to attract down-votes because it sounds like you are soliciting opinions. I posted an answer based on the political philosophy of conservatism. There are other ways to interpret your question (for example, by asking for opinion polls about what certain groups of people thing). You should probably edit your question to focus on a specific, objectively answerable thing. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 4:32
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    The topics you mentioned aren't really a core of conservatism per se. They are a by-product of many conservatives believing in a moral absolute that says those acts are wrong.
    – user21993
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 14:06
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    Keep in mind that not too long ago, most progressives were also against gay marriage and abortion. Today, I think most people in general are against prostitution. Conservatives against these issues are not likely using conservatism to make their decisions (religion seems to be a bigger factor). If you notice, non-religious conservatives (Eg. Libertarians), then to be for these issues. A libertarian would argue that legalizing these things are conservative.
    – Clay07g
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 15:49
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    Conservatism in the US is a mish-mash of opposed ideologies, thanks to the strong two-arty system. Only in the US do you find Libertarians in the same party as advocates of strict social prohibitions. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 16:17
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    @ChanseokOh I think you're not asking about conservatism as a philosophical position, you're asking about the American Right in the Republican party, which is an incoherent mix of populist nationalism, cronyism, protectionism, classical liberalism, social democracy ("get your big government hands away from my social security"), and maybe a little conservatism.
    – lazarusL
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 17:25

13 Answers 13


tl;dr - Conservatism does not explicitly support individualism. This is a by-product of its central claims. Conservatism is entirely comfortable with both individualism and the social policies you mentioned.

What is Conservatism?

First, it's important to understand what the philosophy of conservatism is. At its core, conservatism is an anti-utopian philosophy. While other philosophies like anarchism and socialism make grand claims about what we can accomplish by changing society, conservatism's central claim are two-fold:

  • There is a limit to what human reason can accomplish. There is therefore a limit about what government can accomplish and how much social progress is really possible.
  • And therefore, we should be skeptical about governmental change, especially in social policy. We should make slow, measured changes, rather than dynamic ones.

How does it relate to individualism?

Individualism is merely a by-product of the core conservative claims. In the United States, there is a history of rugged individualism. So if you accept that we should make only slow measured changes, if any, then you implicitly support a kind of individualism.

Regarding the social policies you mentioned, conservatism is skeptical about producing social change through governmental action. Changing existing laws (for example) to legalize prostitution or gay marriage would be examples of producing social change through legislation, so supporting them would be un-conservative.

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    +1. I think that is one of the most common sources of misunderstanding when discussing politics with people from other cultures. Conservativism generally means "maintain the status quo", so whatever is the status quo in your society is what you think are conservative values. For contrast, in Europe, Conservativism is generally not associated with individualism but with authoritarianism, because the traditional status quo in Europe is an authoritarian society.
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 11:55
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    While this answer is correct, keep in mind that it can be argued that the legalization of gay marriage, for example, will not significantly produce social change. In large, the social change around homosexuality has massively changed already. Many conservatives today would say that by legalizing it, we are accepting social change, and therefore are not significantly disrupting the status quo. As more people become accepting of homosexuality, keeping gay marriage illegal will become the opposite of conservative (some would argue that's already the case).
    – Clay07g
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 15:30
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    This answer is true only in the US. The association of Conservatism with individualism is purely because of (supposed) US history. Try asking a Conservative in Iran if they support individualism. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 16:15
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    @DJClayworth That is definitely the point I was trying to make in my answer: the relationship between conservatism and individualism is at best, indirect. It sounds like that wasn't very clear. Do you have a recommendation for improving it? Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 16:30
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    @DJClayworth - correct, but the question is actually about USA and tagged as such
    – user4012
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 17:21

Modern conservatism is Liberalism + Conservatism

Modern conservatism in the United States often tries to define itself by laying claim to the Enlightenment, while rejecting any thought that sprang from Marxism and deconstruction and related disciplines. In the US, those latter groups are best described as 'progressive.'

During the Enlightenment itself there was a divide between Liberalism and Conservatism. Liberalism generally championed the idea of individual liberty, and many Liberal thinkers are well respected by modern American conservatives -- thinkers such as Rosseau, Smith, and Jefferson. Meanwhile, the important Conservatives of the Enlightenment (or Counter-Enlightenment, as it is sometimes referred to) are sometimes appreciated by modern conservatives (like Edmund Burke) and sometimes mostly ignored (Joseph de Maistre).

In particular, many Continental Conservatives of the Counter-Enlightenment were very pro-Pope and pro-Monarchy. This obviously conflicts significantly with the Constitution (which was written by Liberals, like Jefferson and Madison), which is to American conservative thought what the Bible is to Christianity.

As the 20th century progressed, the 'Left' in American political discourse started picking up Social Democracy ideas, especially with FDR's expansion of government, and then started picking up Social Justice ideas, especially in the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement and the Great Society. Those people who were pro-classic Liberal thinkers but anti-modern Left thinking sort of amalgamated with what remained of old Counter-Enlightenment Conservative thought.

The modern American conservative movement is therefore divided between a pro-individualism, pro-Constitution, free markets and free trade group; and a more nationalist, religious, authoritarian branch. Of course, this was somewhat hidden for a long time until Trump's election really laid it bare. Where as of 2015 the vast majority of American conservative intellectuals and politicians were of the former type, Trump demonstrated that among popular conservative support, the latter type is much more prevalent.

Individualism vs Authoritarianism

There is an intellectual tradition among conservatives, rooted in Buckley and Reagan, that is very strong on Constitutional rights, free markets and individualism. This had been the faction that was in power in the Republican party since at least the 1980s. However, a good number of the Republican party's voters were evidently not too enamored with Constitutional rights, free markets, or individualism; instead they are interested in more police action and job-protecting tariffs (including 'tariffs' on labor in the form of restrictive immigration). This can be understood pretty well in classic 'reactionary' terms as a group responding to threats to the established order with a government suppression of the changes. This was not widely apparent until just two years ago, but now the political, if the not the intellectual, center of American conservatism has shifted decisively to the less individualist camp.

Therefore, within the conservative movement, there is significant tension between the 'Classic Liberals' who embrace the Enlightenment and its promise of individualism, and those who are more interested in state and group action to maintain their place in society.

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    I once heard someone say "Only in America is liberalism consider a conservative ideology". If you actually do a deep dive into what the various philosophical terms mean.
    – hszmv
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 19:52
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    @kingledion Not necessarily a mistake, but the title in its current state seems misleading until one reads farther into the answer. Also, I would dispute "Trump demonstrated that among popular conservative support, the latter type is much more popular." What Trump demonstrated was that the latter type all voted for one candidate in the primary, while the former were split among about 10 other candidates, resulting in Trump winning the primary with only 20-30% of the votes in many states. Trump's overall 44.9% in the primary is skewed by late-voting states when he was the only candidate left.
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 22:49
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    @reirab Trump's current approval rating of ~90% among Republicans is more what I am referring to. While a lot of conservative voters weren't keen on him in the beginning, the majority have come around; both to him and to a more nationalist, authoritarian version of conservatism.
    – kingledion
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 23:39
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    @kingledion, it's a whopping big leap from Trump's overall approval rating among members of a group to specifics of that group's political philosophy, especially when you're talking about a group with substantial philosophical diversity. His approval rating notwithstanding, Trump is a divisive figure not only in the country overall, be also within the Republican party and the conservative movement. Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 13:37
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    @JohnBollinger I'm writing a few paragraphs, not a book. Some simplifications are made. Suffice to say, it is clear now that American conservatives are much more tolerant of authoritarian behavior than was assumed in 2015. Would you agree with that?
    – kingledion
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 13:49

I often see American conservatism described as a disparate collection of political views, grouped for historical reasons rather than any common theme, but I don't think that's true at all.

By definition, the goal of conservatism is to resist change and preserve the status quo, and I think that describes American conservatism pretty accurately. What makes it confusing is the fact that the status quo being preserved is not necessarily the current one, and the change being resisted may have already taken place, possibly a very long time ago. Get to know enough conservatives, and you'll come to realize that they're united by a belief that things used to be better (as evidenced by the popular 2016 presidential campaign slogan "Make America great again").

That belief is not entirely delusional (if you agree with their definition of "better"). Many of the things they want really could be achieved by a return to the past. If you look back far enough, you'll find that there was a time when businesses were mostly unregulated, income tax was nonexistent, religion was dominant, women were subservient, and discrimination was a choice, not a crime. Of course, not all conservatives want to go back to the 1700s. The more moderate ones may just want to go back a few decades-- to when emission standards were more lenient, for example. What they have in common is a desire to return things to how they were, or at the very least, stop them from changing further.

So to answer the OP's question, I don't think conservatives do support the general idea of regulating personal decisions; they simply want things to stay the way they are, or return to the way they were. That's why they're called conservatives.

Contrast that with the typical progressive view that the status quo is bad, used to be worse, and will only get better if we reject traditional values and embrace new ideas.

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    You seem to be talking about Republicans, and more specifically the Tea Party, as well as groups such as the neo nazis, evangelists, etc.. You're quite explicitly ignoring many other forms of conservatism, and lumping all of them together.
    – Clay07g
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 13:30
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    I feel this answer would greatly benefit from removing the third paragraph completely. The rest reads as well thought and reasonable. I personally agree with the third paragraph when it comes to certain conservative groups, but it does not apply to all of them, and it's disingenuous to associate the whole political party with the ideas of a few nut jobs.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 14:10
  • @Clay07g I was talking about an ideology, not a group (though I do refer to its followers collectively for the sake of convenience). Which forms of conservatism did I leave out? Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 15:16
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    @GOATNine In America, "conservative" is not a political party. If it was, I'd probably agree with you. Also, I wasn't talking about any group other than conservatives. Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 15:20
  • @DoctorDestructo I misspoke. I would amend my comment to point out that it's disingenuous to associate conservatism and the conservative ideology with the ideologies and viewpoints of fringes, in the same way that you wouldn't associate catholic laypersons with pedophilic rapists, even if some of the clergy have been convicted of such things. That paragraph tends to conflate specific desires of fringe groups within Conservatism with the desires of Conservatism as a whole.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 15:28

Either side of United States political ideologies, taken as a two dimensional scale, can be viewed as if it were a Korean Barbecue. A vast amount of culinary options, with some common themes across a subset of the dishes (spices, noodles, meat, broth, etc.). Similarly, in the massive group of the right, there is significant variance across the many subsets on why they consider themselves to be right leaning.

A plurality would claim to be conservative, if it were described as a belief "in smaller government and support individuals making decisions for themselves." They may also extend this definition to include a protection of individual liberties. These "conservatives" may share some viewpoints with other subsets on the right without sharing every every viewpoint. From this line, conservatives might be opposed to abortion because they see it as a violation of the right to life of the fetus.

Other subsets of the right could reach the same conclusion through different reasoning. The religiously minded approach consider the doctrinal implications of abortion. These people may also call themselves "Conservatives," but they'd add to the definition a moral component. Driving social change in order to improve morality. From this perspective, concepts like Gay-marriage, abortion, and prostitution.

The ambiguity of the word conservatism also lends itself to an appeal to purity logical fallacy, or the "no true Scotsman" problem.

  • Yes (+1). This goes back to the argument I've made many times that the Duvger-tied US system means US parties are inherently coalitions. If you want ideological consistency, you have to look at "wings", which fight for power with each other within the parties, and occasionally move from party to party.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 15:32

Many less moderate conservatives do not regard homosexuality(homosexualism), prostitution and abortion as personal choices

From their POV:

  • homosexuality is a conditioned deviancy, behavior forced on someone in their vulnerable age, often byproduct of pedophilia . It is also a movement (-ism) to legalize and legitimize something that is by divine and natural law repugnant. Conservatives often use examples like recent Catholic Church child abuse (which was by large percent homosexual, i.e. victims were boys molested by male priests) to prove that homosexuals abuse and "infect" their victims during childhood and/or adolescence.

  • Prostitution is regarded as forced behavior, either by coercion or more insidiously by economic factors and social approval. Modern society, by its sexualization of young girls and commercialization of human body, silently approves prostitution in one way or another (selling or renting of human beings) .

  • Finally, abortion is a clear case. Killing of another human being, legally and morally completely innocent, is completely unacceptable.

For further reference see these article indexes at Free Republic ("Conservatives for God, Family, Country! Est. 1996") here: Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Abortion.

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    @rs.29: If you have a specific link to show this, pleas provide it. Asking us to go to conservative media sights and hunt for it ourselves is not a proper citation of sources.
    – hszmv
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 18:44
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    Your references to Breitbart as a nexus of conservatism well describes how you'd define conservatism. Errant, but informative. -1 Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 19:19
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    This answer forces the entire subset of conservatism to the evangelical subset, using the methods and thought processes of the latter to define the former. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 19:22
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    @rs.29: Trump's political philosophies are not indicative of all conservatives. American Conservatism is not an Evangelical and does include the RINOs and the neocons. It's a broad grouping of people who run from extreme right to moderate. Just because they don't fit your narrow definition does not mean that you can say they don't count. The world is not nearly as black and white as you want us to believe it is.
    – hszmv
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 20:06
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    Insofar as evangelicals are a significant force in the modern Republican party, I think this would actually be a good answer if it specifically limited itself to such a sect with sources thereof (and "far right" sources become more acceptable when you are talking of a specific sect). It may be unpleasant for the more tolerant people to read, but I could believe there is a significant fraction of Republicans who do in fact subscribe to this sort of rationale, which then makes it a logical response to the OP's question for that group of people. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 20:49

Other posters have correctly noted that "conservatism" doesn't really have a fixed definition in general, and specifically in the US it encompasses a big tent of political beliefs, such that trying to make a consistent argument that applies to everyone is impossible.


The associations between conservatism and individualism in the United States arguably stem from President Herbert Hoover's concept of "rugged individualism":

During the war we necessarily turned to the Government to solve every difficult economic problem — the Government having absorbed every energy of our people to war there was no other solution. For the preservation of the State the Government became a centralized despotism which undertook responsibilities, assumed powers, exercised rights, and took over the business of citizens. To large degree we regimented our whole people temporarily into a socialistic state. However justified it was in time of war if continued in peace time it would destroy not only our system but progress and freedom in our own country and throughout the world. When the war closed the most vital of all issues was whether Governments should continue war ownership and operation of many instrumentalities of production and distribution. We were challenged with the choice of the American system “rugged individualism” or the choice of a European system of diametrically opposed doctrines — doctrines of paternalism and state socialism. The acceptance of these ideas meant the destruction of self-government through centralization of government; it meant the undermining of initiative and enterprise upon which our people have grown to unparalleled greatness.

My understanding from history classes was that invoking "rugged individualism" created associations with the pioneering spirit of the early Americans who would trek through the frontier to create new lives for themselves. However, I don't have a source to back this at the moment.

Regardless, if you browse the rest of the speech, it's clear that the context involves individualism through the lens of business and entrepreneurship, and not social policy.

I wouldn't take the association further than that. Absolute individual freedom will always enable the trampling of someone else's individual freedom, so pretty much any ideology will claim to be benefiting a certain class of individuals while threatening the liberty of others.


It seems to me most of the other answers posted on this so far have been simplistic at best: "Conservatives oppose change, and this would be a change so they oppose it." In particular, most seem to accept the basic premise that these can legitimately be characterized as personal choices, and I think most conservatives probably disagree with that idea (at least on two of the three--as noted below, I think prostitution is rather different from the other two).


Most who oppose abortion simply don't see it as a legitimate personal choice. They see a fetus as an immature human being, and therefore "abortion" as simply a euphemism for murder. One of the most basic points of the rule of law is that society must defend those who can't defend themselves, and it's hard to imagine anybody being more defenseless than a fetus, so it's obvious that society must defend them.

Gay Marriage

Official recognition of gay marriage does little to increase anybody's personal choice. Lack of a marriage certificate does nothing to prevent a gay couple from loving each other, living together, being committed to their relationship, or much of anything else. About the only way I can think of right off that lack of officially recognized marriage might affect their ability to make personal choices would be if they want to adopt a child, and a married couple was seen as a better choice of adoptive parents for the child--but this doesn't require recognition of gay marriage--it could obviously be prevented by simply eliminating marital status as a consideration in adoption.

On the other hand, official recognition of gay marriage prevents others from making personal choices about opposing it (regardless of their political persuasion, or lack thereof). Employers are often required to pay for health insurance for domestic partners, and those who issue marriage licenses (the exact name of the office varies between states) are forced to issue licenses, regardless of the fact that they may (for example) have sincerely held religious beliefs that gay marriage is sinful and evil.

Therefore, official recognition of gay marriage clearly reduces personal choice rather than increasing it.

Legalized Prostitution

As far as legalized prostitution goes: this simply doesn't divide cleanly along political lines like the others. Most legalized prostitution in the US is in relatively rural counties in Nevada, which are heavily (sometimes overwhelmingly) conservative/Republican (and in Nevada's more populated/Democratic/progressive counties, prostitution is illegal). Elsewhere, there's little support for legalizing prostitution from either side. Even in (for one obvious example) California, nobody seems to have advanced any bills to legalize prostitution. The only hint in that direction has come from the courts saying that perhaps laws already on the books could be read as saying that prostitution is really already allowed. Legalizing prostitution simply doesn't get a lot of support from either conservatives or progressives, but to the extent it is allowed, it's mostly in areas that are relatively conservative in general.


Natural language is fuzzy. You seem to think that conservative people generally favor a small government which interferes with people's lives only minimally; but that is strictly spoken, even in the US, libertarian rather than plain conservative. Libertarians are only a minority among conservatives, for example in the Republican Party.

At the heart of a mainstream conservative mindset is an apprehension of change, based on the assumption that things used to be pretty good in the past but are constantly in danger of deteriorating unless one pays vigilant attention. That concerns the economy as well as morality, private and public behavior, fashion etc. Just consider the current conservative romanticization of the American 1950s (which were in fact pretty terrible for many people who didn't happen to be white men). Not surprisingly, this attittude is more common among older people; young people tend to question the customary ways.

This apprehension of change includes the political system: if change would make or has already made things worse one must protect those in power, or restore old powers which were — wrongly — removed.

One consequence of the urge to protect the status quo in society, politics and economy is that even most conservatives who favor a small government do that with a few exceptions: Laws to prevent change and police and military to enforce them. Personal freedom is only condoned within the given framework of economy, society and politics.

People in general tend to be oblivious towards the "framework" they have grown up in, even more so when it suits them. It is considered the "natural" and generally beneficial way of living. Conservatives are no exception; that may explain why they experience so little cognitive dissonance over the contradictions you mention, and others.


Definitions, especially political ones, are often contextual and change over time, even moreso with particular issues.

If the general view of society moves in one direction or another, someone who may hold the same view that they always have might be looked at differently in terms of where they fall in the political spectrum.

Gay rights/marriage is an example of a topic where culture in the United States has changed pretty rapidly over the past ten to twenty years. It was common for conservative candidates, self-defined as "family values" advocates would strongly oppose any kind of initiative to protect gays from discrimination in society. Clinton's famous "don't ask, don't tell" policy for military services was considered to be a kind of "split the difference" centrist position, unsatisfying to the conservatives or the activist liberals on the topic. Today? It's would be considered very reactionary and conservative to advocate for that policy.

In the same way, what society considers liberal or conservative shifts in one direction or the other. Society has moved more to what was considered liberal on the topic, above.

More to the point of this question is how groups self-define. What was considered mainstream, traditional "Goldwater" conservativism is now considered a moderate to liberal position. Many who considered themselves part of the foundation of the conservative movement find themselves considered outsiders.

John Dean, the former White House Counsel during the Nixon administration, argues that today's conservatives are actually more authoritarian than in the tradition of American conservatism -

According to Dean's narrative, "postmodern conservatism" has, over the past decade, regressed to conservatism's "earliest authoritarian roots." Vanquished is the principled, libertarian-tinged individualist ethos that once drew Dean to the Republican Party. Gone are leaders of respectable character, of any personal conscience at all.

The 1994 Republican takeover of Congress was authoritarian conservatism's national coming-out party, made possible by the newly honed muscle of the Christian right, which Dean believes has brought its self-righteousness into the political arena, poisoning the well of rational public debate. The ascendant Newt Gingrich both represented and institutionalized the worst of the authoritarian personality, birthing the idea of one-party rule in a state with weakened deliberative bodies. The next great events in the transformation of the postmodern conservative were the 2000 election and Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Without these events, writes Dean, "authoritarian conservatism could not have surfaced in the executive branch with its current ferocious sense of purpose."

SF Chronicle Book Review: John Dean analyzes authoritarian tendencies in GOP

Amazon.com: Conservatives Without Conscience eBook: John W Dean

You will always be able to find plenty of instances where individual actions don't align perfectly with how other individuals have defined groups over time. You won't find a unified definition, but can easily find individual characterizations that make other actions seem inconsistent, regardless. Add to this how group identities can shift over time, and it's not surprising that some actions don't align perfectly with some of the traditionally recognized characteristics of any group.

You can also see this with the current internal battle in the Democratic party between the more liberal "progressive" wing and the controlling "establishment" wing of the party.


My answer is not going to depart too much from many of those upstream, except that I wanted to bring out religion. It's also important to remember that Burkean conservatism is able to accept lessons learned from earlier failures - its about incremental change accumulated thoughtfully.

I see in American conservatism three quite different types of 'conservative', which are:

Economic conservatives. This applies the conservative stance to regulation of the economy and hence is against taxation for income redistribution, regulation protecting people instead of letting the market sort it out. The economic conservative is against the government trying to implement economic lessons-learned as regulations. Some libertarians are economic conservatives, but libertarians are pro-liberty on many other questions.

Social conservatives. Here the conservative stance is taken with respect to social institutions when they are changed. The rational case for social conservatism in Burke is to recognize that just getting to today as society is quite an achievement, and revolutions are much less good at producing human flourishing than they claim. So a social conservative might look at current critiques of gender and respond that, while isolating for some, many more people have found in gender norms an important resource for moral formation and an empowering behavioral language for expression of their sexual identity. (Modern critiques know, and are not impressed.) But I think social conservatism is very open to dignifying irrational stances too.

Theological conservatives. Christianity has faced up to the challenge of modernity in a number of ways, each with strengths and weaknesses. Extremely conservative positions might include things like 'creation science', and certainly reject science that supports gay wellbeing, gender reassignment, and so on. More liberal interpretive strategies include playing the more 'applied' letters of Paul against the more existential / abstract teaching of Jesus. White Evangelicals in the US make up a large proportion of the Republican-voting base.

Some of the tensions between these three should be:

  • theologically conservative Christians would not allow the ruling class to be economically conservative unless it delivers for the poor. The prophets of the Old Testament were extremely clear about the responsibilities of societies elites to the poor and working class.

  • theologically conservative Christians would not allow social conservatism that tries to paper over the sins of white people in the slave-owning confederacy, and the ongoing sin of racism against black people, hispanic people or desperate immigrants.

  • social conservatives are naturally protectionist, whether in the form of tariffs or unions, they want to resist the social damage of rapid flows of capital.

The alliances of convenience have been:

  • rejection of science: its been pretty easy for economic 'conservatives' to get Evangelicals to reject climate science.

  • rejection of abortion. its been pretty easy for Evangelicals to persuade social conservatives and economic conservatives to reject abortion, and with it, lots of basic protections that make abortion rarer.

  • anti-immigrant, anti-hispanic, anti-black rhetoric.

In the current intellectual climate, I tend to see the liberal projects like government, social security, medicare and the free press as things for which 'conservatives' have forgotten the reason. 'Conservatives' are actually possessed by a revolutionary spirit compared to the more liberal or progressive agenda that is trying to catch the law up to realities that are very clear (e.g. single payer healthcare provided on the basis of sickness saves everyone money).


If you put all political views on a 2-dimensional line you falsify almost everything about conservatism.

I am taking conservatism as rooted in Edmund Burke and made formal in Harry Jaffa's work on Lincoln. Conservatism is solidly on the side of the individual esp as against a totalitarian state but its principles that found that are also based on virtue.

I agree with the following but that is not why I am posting it. It explains why individualism conservatism and regulation of personal decisions must go together.

So I think the whole notion that morality is not a concern of government is denied by the very language of the American founding, which embodies a very old and wise tradition. Separation of church and state was not understood; and I think cannot be understood, to mean a separation of religion and politics. Separation of church and state only means that the churches best perform their political function without any patronage of sectarian religion by the government or any discrimi­nation among them. But the assumption is-and I think Tocqueville says this with very great clarity-that it is the support, and to some extent even the creation, of a moral consensus by the churches outside of the formal realm of political authority which makes possible major­ity rule and minority rights. Confidence that the major­ity will rule according to principles accepted by the minority depends upon a moral consensus, without which the possibility of self-government and majority rule would not be practical. Tocqueville argues, I think, that the separation of church and state makes it possible for the churches to agree on morality without having to agree on church dogma. Sectarian religion contributes to the moral consensus by enlisting, you might say, the enthusiasm of its church members for a moral con­sensus, which would be ruptured if people had to fight with each other over which set of revealed dogmas is to be official. The churches could not support morality together were they to quarrel politically over dogma. But by putting the dogma outside the realm of politics, they enable the churches to cooperate in a role which makes a democratic politics possible.

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    Please start putting your quotes in quote markup and providing a source for them. I'm assuming this is a quote from Harry Jaffa, who you've referred to here and in previous answers, but for all I know, you made it up. It would also be a good idea to break this particular quote up into multiple paragraphs, as it's very long and hard-to-read.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 18:39

Conservatives do not believe in individualism. They do not believe in personal freedom. They only believe in economic freedom.

enter image description here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nolan_Chart

They do not believe in smaller government. They are happy when money is spent on the military or police, or institutions which promote 'order'.

By definition, they seek to preserve the status quo, so any behavior that violates the status quo or goes against social norms or tradition is attacked.

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    I've downvoted this answer for the absolute assertion that conservatives do not believe in individualism. The broad scope of conservatism as it as existed in the US would extend into the first and third quadrants of the supplied graph, while not existing at the maximum of quadrant four. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservatism_in_the_United_States Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 23:41
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    The Nolan Chart is an unconvincing source, also. Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 4:19
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    @DrunkCynic I'm none of those things, but I get along with all of them, and conservatives too. Only a conservative would consider those attributes vices. Q.E.D.
    – Chloe
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 5:20
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    @Chloe That's not at all true. Up until the last 20 years, both conservatives and liberals were both against homosexuality in large. Nowadays, I guarantee you can still find plenty of homophobic liberals. They're mostly senior citizens, though. Your assertion is a nonsensical conflation.
    – Clay07g
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 13:36
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    Taking into account political correctness, gun control etc., I would say that "liberals" (aka the American left) are NOT full supporters of "personal freedom" either. The Nolan Chart is a gross simplification of the differences between left, right and libertarians. Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 21:22

It's worth noting that conservatives, liberals, libertarians and federalism (assuming you're referring to American politics, if not, it basically means anyone who supports government regulation) is more of a 2D grid than a line.

Libertarians have a party separate from Republicans

For example, in American politics, Libertarians, who believe in the reduction of government control over property, have their own political party, separate from Republicans, who are seen as conservative. This shows the goals of conservatives don't always necessarily align with libertarian values.

What is a conservative, really?

A conservative is a person who essentially is conservative about change (IE they believe a pre-existing system is better or fewer changes are needed), and thus is more about (but not strictly!) maintaining the status quo. So the current status quo is prostitution is illegal, so passing laws maintains that.

This makes them fundamentally opposed to liberalism because, in theory, liberalism is about allowing more liberal ideals, in practice, liberalism often seems to involve government regulation. And thus, when conservatives undo liberal work, it appears as though conservative ideals are opposed to government regulation.

For example, taxation used to fund social programmes devised under a liberal government would be rolled back under a conservative government. Likewise, if the conservative government implemented any government regulations, it's likely a liberal government would roll those back. Such is politics.

What about free-market arguments?

Within conservatism you might find some that argue that supply-demand and economic forces should dictate companies, corporations behaviours, which often mandates that government regulation of corporations be curtailed.

That said, some level of government interference is necessary even within a 'free market', for example, to prevent collusion, price-fixing, anti-trust, and monopolies squeezing out competition (which is anti-thetical to the idea of free-market competition).

I think in truth, you will find some conservatives in favour of government regulation, and some against, with others being on the fence (depending on topic). It'd be similar in any other party, unless of course the party is either anarchist or libertarian.

It's probably worthwhile not to treat politics as being a linear line of either 'left or right' but a diverse mixture of many views.

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