Roger Scruton calls it an “unusual and precarious exercise,” especially because conservatives “believe that good government is not grounded in abstract ideas but in concrete situations, and that concrete situations are hard to grasp”:
Conservatism does not fit easily with abstract ideals. And for many of its defenders that is all that Conservatism amounts to – the suspicion of ideals. After all, the socialist ideal of equality has led to the belief that patriotism is racism, and that the attachment to an established way of life is merely unjust discrimination against those who do not share it. The result has been a cantonisation of society in the name of “multiculturalism”. And the liberal ideal of universal human rights has likewise led to a downgrading of attachment, since attachment is a form of discrimination and therefore a way of giving preference to those who already belong.
Abstract ideals, Conservatives argue, are inevitably disruptive, since they undermine the slow, steady work of real politics, which is a work of negotiation and compromise between people whose interests will never coincide.
Seeing politics in that way, however, Conservatives are exposed to the complaint that they have no positive vision, and nothing to offer us, save the status quo – with all its injustices and inequalities, and all its entrenched corruption. It is precisely in facing this charge that the real thinking must be done. In How to Be a Conservative, I offer a response to this ongoing complaint, and in doing so distance Conservatism from what its leftist critics call “neoliberalism”. Conservatism, I argue, is not a matter of defending global capitalism at all costs, or securing the privileges of the few against the many. It is a matter of defending civil society, maintaining autonomous institutions, and defending the citizen against the abuse of power. Its underlying motive is not greed or the lust for power but simply attachment to a way of life.