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Liberal conservatism is a variant of political conservatism which incorporates liberal elements. As "conservatism" and "liberalism" have had different meanings over time and across countries, the term "liberal conservatism" has been used in quite different senses. In general, it has carried two broad meanings.

Modern European liberal conservatism combine current conservative policies with more liberal stances on social or moral issues. Most centre-right political parties in Europe are usually liberal conservative. Compared to a different group of centre-right parties, such as Christian democratic parties, liberal conservatism is less traditionalist, and usually more libertarian in economy, favouring low-taxes and small government.

Classical conservatism and economic liberalism

Historically, in the 18th and 19th centuries, conservatism comprised a set of principles based on concern for established tradition, respect for authority and religious values. This form of classical conservatism is often considered to be exemplified by the writings of Edmund Burke and, in more robust form, Joseph de Maistre and the post-Enlightenment Popes. Contemporaneous liberalism - now called classical liberalism - advocated both political freedom for individuals and a free market in the economic sphere. Ideas of this sort were promulgated by Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill.

The original "liberal conservatives" were those who combined conservative social attitudes with a classical-liberal economic outlook. Over time, the majority of conservatives in the Western world came to adopt free-market economic ideas, to the extent that such ideas are now generally considered and termed "conservative". Nonetheless, in some countries the term "liberal" continues to be used to describe those with free market economic views. This is the case, for example, in mainland Europe (Francemarker, Germanymarker, Italymarker, Spainmarker) and (unusually for an English-speaking country) in Australia.

The liberal conservative tradition in the United States combines the economic individualism of the classical liberals with a Burkean form of conservatism (which has also become part of the American conservative tradition, for example in the writings of Russell Kirk).

A common first principle for most liberal conservatives, including Burke, is a theory of collective human intellect. Over time, the argument goes, civilizations and groups develop a set of traditions, practices or customs that grow to solve certain problems of human existence. Conservatives argue that we should have a presumption in favour of such institutions, rather than changes to them. Institutions reflect the wisdom of the collective human intellect, whereas changes reflect reasoning or deduction by individuals or groups who are only exposed to contemporary problems. When individuals reason out new institutions from a set of first principles, a process conservatives called 'social engineering', they will rarely best an institution that that has grown from the collective intellect. Conservatives believe that institutions based on the collective human intellect, experience and wisdom of many generations are more reliable.

A second principle common to most liberal conservatives is that collective traditions, practices or customs are crucial to a moral life. Institutions are a set of rules guidelines, heuristics - a sort of script - for the leading a moral life. Social conservatism is often coupled with Liberal conservatism.

Modern European meaning

In modern British English, "liberal conservatism" typically has a quite different meaning. Rather than referring to a combination of classical conservatism and free-market economic ideas, it refers to free-market (in this context, "conservative", because most conservative parties in Europe have adopted economic liberalism) economics allied with culturally liberal views - on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, for example. It is pretty much further liberalization of the older liberal conservatism - today's conservatism (see section above) - economic views are similar, still favoring free market and small government, but is less traditionalist. This position is sometimes associated with support for moderate forms of the welfare state and of environmentalism. "Liberal conservatism" in this sense is for instance represented by David Cameron of the British Conservative Party, the Swedishmarker Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate Party, the Norwegian Conservative Party, and the Irish party Fine Gael.

Liberal conservative political parties

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