From beginner-friendly introductions to classic philosophy books on conservatism, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on conservatism. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best philosophy 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….
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:
University Course Syllabi:
- American Conservatism – Poli Sci 490 | Valparaiso University
- Conservatism in America – Appalachian State University
- American Conservatisms – Johns Hopkins University
- Conservative political philosophers that leftist should read.
- Who are some recent well-respected (by mainstream philosophers) politically conservative philosophers?
- What are the best primer texts on liberalism and conservatism?
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Introductory Political Philosophy Books
- The Best Philosophy Books on Freedom/Liberty
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.