Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 71(2) May 2021

Book Review

Conservatism. The Fight for a Tradition

by Edmund Fawcett. Princeton University Press

Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevasathan

Book CoverEdmund Fawcett is a former chief correspondent for The Economist. He describes himself as a left-wing liberal who wants to write as objectively as possible about conservatism. The book is well organized and easy to read. It gives us plenty to think about.

He notes that modern conservatism began as a reaction to the French Revolution. The moderate views of Edmund Burke are discussed alongside the "radical conservatism" of Joseph de Maistre.  According to the author, conservatism prospers when it gives ground to liberalism. It disintegrates when it refuses to compromise.

Modern conservatives believe in the limits of political reason. Any utopian enterprises are treated with suspicion. Conservatives defend custom, tradition and religion. Freedom is valued within the limits of an ordered society. The conservatives discussed include Orestes Brownson, Wilhelm Von Ketteler, John Henry Newman and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. More recent figures include Roger Scruton, John Finnis and Rod Dreher.

Conservatives have been written off as anti-intellectual and "deplorables" by the left. And yet they are flourishing. The author believes that the left is in retreat. But that is hardly believable when one looks at the universities and other institutions. As for the media, it is worth noting that 95% of the American mainstream media has been anti-Trump.

The author is critical of what he refers to as the "hard right." But what does that mean? Boris Johnson is certainly not conservative in his moral beliefs. Neither are the majority of conservative politicians in the UK. Voters who have traditional views are increasingly unlikely to vote for a Conservative Party that has torn itself from its roots. In contrast voters in the United States have a real choice between pro-abortion Democrats and largely pro-life Republicans.

Surprisingly, abortion is hardly mentioned in this tome of a book. Neither is gay marriage. The author is likely to dismiss those who uphold traditional marriage and the sanctity of life from conception as members of the "hard right." Even though most of them hold very moderate views on other matters.

I found the book well worth the read. And I agree with some of what the author the author has to say