REVIEW – Conservatism as a body of thought within the academia is underresearched and understudied.
Conservatism as a body of thought within the academia is underresearched and understudied and consequently there is a scarcity of academic attention and literature on the subject. This is not to say that there is no academic literature but comparatively in relation to more researched topics such as feminism or liberalism it has been neglected. This, however, is not a new phenomenon. C.D. Broad remarked over a century ago about the scholarly neglect of conservatism. More recently, Mark Garnett writing in 2018, remarked that ‘whatever the reasons for relative scholarly neglect, the result has been a host of questions about conservatism which are more often addressed by critics than by those who wish to provide plausible answers’. Edmund Neill’s book called Conservatism is a most welcome addition to the academic literature on conservatism as it tackles the subject from a scholarly disposition and to utilised what I have termed the ‘Garnett Dichotomy of Conservative Literature’, it aims to provide ‘plausible answers’ and takes conservative thought seriously.
Neill is a Lecturer in Modern History at the New College of Humanities at Northeastern University in the United Kingdom. It is thus not surprising that the framework for the book is historical in nature, which is a strength of the book. The timespan covers conservative thought from the French Revolution to the present day with chapters on conservatism within differing eras including one that encompasses the Two World Wars. The introduction of differing traditions of conservatisms, such as Romantic Toryism to the New Right of the 1980s, aptly demonstrates, to my mind, how these traditions have been passed down from one generation to the next, whereas the label provided to them may have changed. That said, the book is superb at demonstrating the flexibility of conservatism, but also that it has been a coherent body of thought throughout the time period of ‘modern’ conservatism.
In the present-day section of the book, however, there are current key debates and intellectual developments, especially in the USA but also in the UK, that are overlooked. For example, the intellectual movement of post-liberal conservatism within these two nations and their key thinkers such as Patrick Deneen or Adrian Vermeule in the USA or Phillip Blond in the UK. Moreover, the develop of the National Conservatism is also overlooked and one of its key thinkers, Yoram Hazony, is not included in the book. Confusingly, these two movements and others have been coined, in the USA, ‘New Right’ and are broadly against Reaganism (or the ‘Old New Right’, as I am going to term it). These are important and developing stands in conservative thought and they play a critical role in the current debate about conservatism e.g. what it can or should be, the role of the state and social policy within conservatism and the role of public religion, as well as other key issues.
Graham Gee and Gregoire Webber noted that the ‘basic set of beliefs, practices and actions that comprise the conservative tradition of political constitutionalism are to be found, for the most part, not in academic works, but rather in the writings of politicians’. The same can be said of conservative thought generally. Another strength of Neill’s book is that he has included conservative politicians (Stanley Baldwin, Margaret Thatcher, Otto Von Bismarck), poets (T.S. Eliot) and thinkers (Russell Kirk, Roger Scruton, Henry Adams). This has provided the reader with a more holistic and complete picture of conservatism, which ought to be commended.
Edmund Neill: Conservatism (Key Concepts in Political Theory). Polity; 1st edition, 2021.