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'Conservatism supports pragmatism over principle.' Discuss
Pragmatism is the belief that behaviour should be shaped in accordance with practical circumstances and goals rather than principles, beliefs or ideology. Pragmatism is a flexible approach to politics. To a large extent it is true that Conservatism supports pragmatism over principle. Conservatism is not a doctrine of ‘no change’ or one that treats its own principles as external and fixed. Conservatism instead has a pragmatic view of politics where politics should be according to Oakeshott, ‘a conversation not an argument’. The belief is that political actions should not come from conflict but instead come from a gentle relationship between the government and the governed. However the extent of this belief varies. The traditional paternalistic conservatives support this more pragmatic view but authoritarian and liberal conservatives are more attached to principles of individualism and free market economics. Traditional conservatives clearly favour pragmatism over principle. They generally portray their ideas not as an ideology, but as common sense based on practical experience. Ian Gilmour once said that ‘The wise conservative travels light’ meaning that important principles held by conservatives would only be protected by taking into account practical circumstances and experiences. Although traditional conservatives believe in conserving what is good they also believe that it is important to reform where necessary. This pragmatic approach is necessary in order to preserve the best traditions and institutions. The basis for this position is the belief that human beings are intellectually limited. The idea that the world is too complicated for human reason to fully grasp led Michael Oakeshott to describe the political world as ‘boundless and bottomless’. He believed politics should not have a fixed goal or specific direction because it had to adapt to the world as it changes and it is not always...
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