Courtesy Reuters

The Conservative Approach to Politics

IN 1894, the tax reform of Sir William V. Harcourt, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, brought a formal end to the privileged position of the British landed aristocracy. Yet only about 50 years later, the Labor Government of Great Britain has felt it necessary to move once again to restrict the power of the peers. The vitality of the old ruling class as shown by its long tenure of power, and the British record of two and a half centuries without revolution, take on new significance for Americans in the present international situation. When one Great Power is deliberately fomenting revolution in every country which it does not wholly control, every other country will in the literal sense of the word be conservative; and the United States, which enjoys a higher standard of living than any other, will be so most inescapably of all. But as the requisite for the enjoyment of their wealth and power, Americans are at the same time faced with the necessity of taking the lead in bettering the conditions of men and nations within the world they wish to preserve. This is the task which the British aristocracy performed so successfully in its own country in the nineteenth century, when it set the classic example of intelligent conservatism.

Lord Salisbury described what might be called the minimum components of the conservative approach to the adjustment of conflicts of interest, in a letter which he sent to Lord Randolph Churchill, in 1886. His effort was to compose an inter-party dispute, just before Lord Randolph impetuously resigned from Salisbury's Government. He wrote of the "varying elements" of the Tory Party and of the difficulty of satisfying "the masses" without antagonizing "the classes." "But I believe," he concluded, "that with patience, feeling our way as we go, we may get the one element to concede and the other to forbear."[i]

"Concede and forbear," in the last analysis, is the principle of majority rule; but the last analysis was something with which Salisbury

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