Conservatism is a philosophy of imperfection in that it highlights a variety of flaws and failings in human nature, thus emphasising the limited prospect for social and political advancement. Human nature is flawed in at least three ways. First, human beings are limited and dependant creatures, who are drawn to the familiar, the tried and tested. People, therefore, recoil from change and seek reassurance in tradition. Second, human nature is morally imperfect in that people are driven by non-rational instinct and urges, amongst which are selfishness, greed and lust. The prospect of spontaneous social order and stability is thus dismissed as a utopian dream. Order can only be imposed from above in the form of authority, thereby limiting freedom. Third, human rationality is unreliable: the world is simply too complex for human beings to fully understand. This implies that abstract theories and principles are, at best, an uncertain guide to proper human conduct.
This was a popular question and was answered well by most candidates who attempted it. Even weaker responses were generally able to highlight, with some accuracy, certain pessimistic features of the conservative view of human nature. In some cases, this was restricted to an emphasis on moral corruption, while some candidates, rather oddly, asserted that conservatives believe that human beings will inevitably make ‘wrong’ choices. Better responses demonstrated a wider understanding of the conservative theory of human nature, often, helpfully, distinguishing between its psychological, moral and intellectual dimensions. The strongest responses were able to elaborate on this by exploring the larger implications for conservatism of its pessimistic beliefs about human nature, explaining, for example, how conservative support for tradition and continuity, authority and hierarchy, and order and social discipline can all be traced back to beliefs about human imperfection. Some candidates also explained how and why...
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