Dispositional conservatism – is procedural and instinctively cautious. Substantial conservatism – emphasises fundamental beliefs.
Dispositional conservatives take great pride in the fact that conservatives have never had a Marx-style Communist manifesto to which they rally. They shun gluttonous ideologies and prize pragmatism. Experience has taught dispositional conservatives that hasty reform is fraught with danger. They will always prefer tradition and present imperfections to utopian-sounding reforms.
All this caution and scepticism can lead dispositional conservatives to border on the gloomy – tending to feel superior to the ’can do’ conservatism of Ronald Reagan and George W Bush.
Substantial conservatives attach themselves to certain beliefs. Order. Patriotism. Family values. Homeland security. Small government. This website – conservativehome.com - promotes ten substantial beliefs. These range from ‘home & family’ to ‘compassion’ and ‘world’ in the shields graphic above.
Sometimes these two forms of conservatism complement each other… but sometimes they clash
These two forms of conservatism can be complementary. A strong belief in the family or limited government can, for example, be pursued with a procedural awareness of the dangers of radical reform. Equilibrium conservatism attempts to blend the two brands. It salutes some permanent beliefs but never allows a subsection of these beliefs to crowd out and dominate the others.
Sometimes the two forms of conservatism collide. In today’s war on terror the caution of dispositional conservatives has been rejected by neoconservative hawks. Neocons are so convinced that rogue nations represent an existential threat that they are willing to embrace radical doctrines like pre-emption. Some dispositional conservatives see as much danger in a drastic response to the terrorist threat as to the threat itself. Many feel vindicated by the difficulties of the Iraq campaign. They believe that the “adventurism” (as they would characterise it) of Bush and Blair has divided ‘the western powers’ and acted as a recruiting sergeant for militant Islam. They also wonder why substantial conservatives – so sceptical about the possibility of government schemes at home – ever thought that government could successfully ‘nation-build’ abroad.
Peter Wehner, Director of Strategic Initiatives for George W Bush, can have the last word:
"The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that for everything there is a season. At some points in history, the role of conservatism has been to stop pernicious ideologies: the excesses of the French Revolution, socialism, fascism, and imperial communism. These were monumental achievements – but we have entered a different era. Today the role of conservatism is to be proactive, bold, energetic, and optimistic – to shape history rather than to impede it."