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As both "conservatism" and "liberalism" have had different meanings over time and across countries, the term liberal conservatism has been used in quite different senses. In political science, the term is used to refer to ideologies that combine the advocacy of laissez-faire economic principles, such as respect for contracts, defense of private property and free markets with the belief in natural inequality, the importance of religion, and the value of traditional morality through a framework of limited, constitutional, representative government. It contrasts with classical liberalism and especially aristocratic conservatism, rejecting the principle of equality as something in discordance with human nature, instead emphasizing the idea of natural inequality.
As the conservative ideology in democratic countries embraced typical liberal institutions such as the rule of law, private property, market economy, and constitutional representative government, the liberal element of liberal conservatism became consensual outside of the socialist camp. This consensus has been so complete in some countries (e.g. the United States) that the term liberal conservatism came to be understood simply as conservatism in popular culture, prompting some conservatives who embraced more strongly classical liberal values to call themselves libertarians. Nevertheless, the liberal conservative tradition in the United States often combines the economic individualism of the classical liberals with a Burkean form of conservatism that emphasizes the natural inequalities between men, the irrationality of human behavior as the basis for the embrace of traditional ethics, the human drive for order and stability, and the rejection of natural rights as the basis for government.
In other countries where liberal conservative movements have more recently entered the political mainstream, such as Italy and Spain, the terms liberal and conservative may be understood as synonymous, while in Latin America, economically liberal conservatism is often labelled under the rubric of neoliberalism both in popular culture and academic discourse. Often this involves stressing free-market economics and belief in individual responsibility together with the defense of civil rights, environmentalism, and support for a limited welfare state. Compared to traditional centre-right politics, such as those proposed by Christian democratic parties, liberal conservatism is less traditionalist and more right-libertarian economically, favouring low taxes and minimal state intervention in the economy.
Classical conservatism and economic liberalism
Historically, in the 18th and 19th centuries, conservatism comprised a set of principles based on concern for established tradition, respect for authority, and religious values. This form of classical conservatism is often considered to be exemplified by the writings of Joseph de Maistre and the post-Enlightenment Popes. Contemporaneous liberalism – now called classical liberalism – advocated both political freedom for individuals and a free market in the economic sphere. Ideas of this sort were promulgated by John Locke, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill.
The maxim of liberal conservatism, according to scholar Andrew Vincent, is "economics is prior to politics," while others emphasize elements such as the openness of historical progress and a suspicion of tyrannical majorities behind the hailing of individual liberties and traditional virtues by authors such as Tocqueville and Burke and as the basis of current liberal conservatism as seen both in the works of Raymond Aron and Michael Oakeshott and the ideological outlook of right-of-center parties. There is general agreement however, that the original "liberal conservatives" were those who combined conservative social attitudes with a classical-liberal economic outlook, adapting a previous aristocratic understanding of natural inequalities between men to the rule of meritocracy – without, however, directly criticizing privileges of birth as long as individual liberties were guaranteed. Over time, the majority of conservatives in the Western world came to adopt free-market economic ideas as the Industrial Revolution progressed and the aristocracy lost its power, to the extent that such ideas are now generally considered as part of conservatism. Nonetheless, in most countries the term "liberal" is used to describe those with free-market economic views. This is the case, for example, in mainland Europe and Latin America.
A common principle for most liberal conservatives of Burkean extraction is a theory of collective human intellect. Over time, the argument goes, civilizations and groups develop a set of traditions, practices or customs that grow to solve certain problems of human existence. Conservatives argue that people should have a presumption in favour of such institutions, rather than changes to them. Institutions reflect the wisdom of the collective human intellect, whereas changes reflect reasoning or deduction by individuals or groups who are only exposed to contemporary problems. When individuals reason out new institutions from a set of first principles, a process conservatives called 'social engineering,' they will rarely best an institution that has grown from the collective intellect. Conservatives believe that institutions based on the collective human intellect, experience, and wisdom of many generations are more reliable. As a result, liberal conservatives often assume that collective traditions, practices, or customs are crucial to a moral life. Institutions are a set of rules guidelines, heuristics—a sort of script—for the leading a moral life.
Modern European meaning
In modern European discourse, "liberal conservatism" usually encompass right-of-centre political outlooks that reject some of the traditionalism associated with Christian democratic or Tory politics. This position is sometimes associated with support for moderate forms of social safety net and of environmentalism. "Liberal conservatism" in this sense is for instance represented by Michael Portillo or the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate Party, the Conservative Party of Norway, and the Finnish National Coalition Party. In an interview with journalist Andrew Marr, for BBC Television shortly after taking office as Prime Minister, David Cameron said that he had always described himself as a liberal conservative. In his first speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2006, he defined this as believing in individual freedom and human rights, but being sceptical of "grand schemes to remake the world."
Liberal conservative political parties
- Åland: Moderates of Åland
- Albania: Democratic Party of Albania
- Argentina: Union of the Democratic Centre, Republican Proposal (PRO)
- Armenia: Prosperous Armenia
- Bahamas: Free National Movement
- Belarus: United Civil Party
- Belgium: New Flemish Alliance
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Brazil: Democrats.
- Bulgaria: Union of Democratic Forces
- Canada: Conservative Party of Canada, British Columbia Liberal Party, Saskatchewan Party,
- Chile: National Renewal
- Colombia: Social National Unity Party
- Cyprus: Democratic Rally
- Czech Republic: Civic Democratic Party, Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09
- Denmark: Conservative People's Party
- Dominican Republic: National Progressive Force
- Estonia: Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica
- Faroe Islands: People's Party
- Finland: National Coalition Party
- France: Union for a Popular Movement
- Georgia: United National Movement
- Germany: Christian Democratic Union
- Ghana: New Patriotic Party
- Gibraltar: Progressive Democratic Party (Gibraltar)
- Greece: New Democracy
- Greenland: Association of Candidates
- Honduras: National Party of Honduras
- Hungary: Modern Hungary Movement
- Iceland: Independence Party
- India: Bharatiya Janata Party
- Ireland: Fine Gael
- Israel: Likud
- Italy: The People of Freedom
- Jamaica: Jamaica Labour Party
- Japan: Liberal Democratic Party
- Latvia: Unity
- Lithuania: Homeland Union
- Malta: Nationalist Party (PN)
- Moldova: Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova
- Montenegro: Movement for Changes
- Netherlands: People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, Party for Freedom
- New Zealand: National Party
- Nicaragua: Alliance for the Republic
- Norway: Conservative Party
- Pakistan: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)
- Poland: Congress of the New Right
- Portugal: Social Democratic Party
- Romania: Democratic Liberal Party
- Russia: Right Cause
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: New Democratic Party
- Serbia: G17 Plus, Serbian Progressive Party
- Slovakia: Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party
- Slovenia: Slovenian Democratic Party
- Spain: People's Party
- Sri Lanka: United National Party
- Sweden: Moderate Party
- Switzerland: Civic Democratic Party
- Turkey: Justice and Development Party
- Ukraine: All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland"
- United Kingdom: Conservative Party
- United States: (see Conservatism in the United States and Third party (United States)#Right-wing)
- Uruguay: National Party
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- Johnston, Larry: Politics: An Introduction to the Modern Democratic State. University of Toronto Press, 2007. p.154
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- Bethell, Leslie: The Cambridge History of Latin America: Latin America since 1930. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
- Vincent, Andrew (2009). "Conservatism". Modern political ideologies. Chichester, U.K. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 65–66. ISBN 978-1-4051-5495-6.
- Lakoff, Sandoff: Tocqueville, Burke, and the Origins of Liberal Conservatism. The review of politics; 60, pp 435–464. Notre Dame, 1998
- Cameron, David. "I am a Liberal Conservative". BBC. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
- "Full text of David Cameron's speech to the Conservative Party conference", BBC, October 2006