This page contains a list of the best books on conservatism. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on conservatism. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about conservatism. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.
Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on conservatism in no particular order.
How to Be a Conservative – Roger Scruton
Publisher description: What does it mean to be a conservative in an age so skeptical of conservatism? How can we live in the presence of our ‘canonized forefathers’ at a time when their cultural, religious and political bequest is so routinely rejected? With soft left-liberalism as the dominant force in Western politics, what can conservatives now contribute to public debate that will not be dismissed as pure nostalgia?
In this highly personal and witty book, renowned philosopher Roger Scruton explains how to live as a conservative in spite of the pressures to exist otherwise. Drawing on his own experience as a counter-cultural presence in public life, Scruton argues that while humanity might survive in the absence of the conservative outlook, it certainly won’t flourish.
How to be a Conservative is not only a blueprint for modern conservatism. It is a heartfelt appeal on behalf of old fashioned decencies and values, which are the bedrock of our weakened, but still enduring, civilization.
Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought From David Hume to the Present – Jerry Z. Muller
Publisher description: At a time when the label “conservative” is indiscriminately applied to fundamentalists, populists, libertarians, fascists, and the advocates of one or another orthodoxy, this volume offers a nuanced and historically informed presentation of what is distinctive about conservative social and political thought. It is an anthology with an argument, locating the origins of modern conservatism within the Enlightenment and distinguishing between conservatism and orthodoxy. Bringing together important specimens of European and American conservative social and political analysis from the mid-eighteenth century through our own day, Conservatism demonstrates that while the particular institutions that conservatives have sought to conserve have varied, there are characteristic features of conservative argument that recur over time and across national borders.
The book proceeds chronologically through the following sections: Enlightenment Conservatism (David Hume, Edmund Burke, and Justus Möser), The Critique of Revolution (Burke, Louis de Bonald, Joseph de Maistre, James Madison, and Rufus Choate), Authority (Matthew Arnold, James Fitzjames Stephen), Inequality (W. H. Mallock, Joseph A. Schumpeter), The Critique of Good Intentions (William Graham Sumner), War (T. E. Hulme), Democracy (Carl Schmitt, Schumpeter), The Limits of Rationalism (Winston Churchill, Michael Oakeshott, Friedrich Hayek, Edward Banfield), The Critique of Social and Cultural Emancipation (Irving Kristol, Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, Hermann Lübbe), and Between Social Science and Cultural Criticism (Arnold Gehlen, Philip Rieff). The book contains an afterword on recurrent tensions and dilemmas of conservative thought.
Reflections on the Revolution in France – Edmund Burke
Publisher description: This new and up-to-date edition of a book that has been central to political philosophy, history, and revolutionary thought for two hundred years offers readers a dire warning of the consequences that follow the mismanagement of change. Written for a generation presented with challenges of terrible proportions–the Industrial, American, and French Revolutions, to name the most obvious–Burke’s Reflections of the Revolution in France displays an acute awareness of how high political stakes can be, as well as a keen ability to set contemporary problems within a wider context of political theory.
The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot – Russell Kirk
Publisher description: Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind is one of the greatest contributions to twentieth-century American conservatism. Brilliant in every respect, from its conception to its choice of significant figures representing the history of intellectual conservatism, The Conservative Mind launched the modern American Conservative Movement when it was first published in 1953 and has become an enduring classic of political thought.
Rationalism in Politics – Michael Oakeshott
Publisher description: Rationalism in Politics, first published in 1962, has established the late Michael Oakeshott as the leading conservative political theorist in modern Britain. This expanded collection of essays astutely points out the limits of “reason” in rationalist politics.
Oakeshott criticizes ideological schemes to reform society according to supposedly “scientific” or rationalistic principles that ignore the wealth and variety of human experience. “Rationalism in politics,” says Oakeshott, “involves a misconception with regard to the nature of human knowledge.” History has shown that it produces unexpected, often disastrous results. “Having cut himself off from the traditional knowledge of his society, and denied the value of any education more extensive than a training in a technique of analysis,” the Rationalist succeeds only in undermining the institutions that hold civilized society together. In this regard, rationalism in politics is “a corruption of the mind.”
The following sources were used to build this list:
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Interested in philosophy but don’t know where to start? Check out these resources:
- An Organized Collection of Online Philosophy Resources and Reading Lists
- A History of Western Philosophy in 66 Quotations (and 300+ online resources)
- A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations
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