The Conservative Tradition

Course No. 4812
Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 4812
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Course Overview

Preserving the traditions and values of the past and applying them to the future—this is the core of the Conservative attitude. While the development of Conservatism has followed different arcs in the United States and Great Britain, this rich and fascinating political tradition has decisively impacted the evolution of both nations and their grand political institutions.

Conservatism has become a critical part of Western world thinking since its origins in the late 17th-century's Glorious Revolution, when royal power was curbed and Parliament became the central feature of the British political system. Since then, it has gone on to play an influential role in shaping the course of British—and later American—history.

In our own country, this philosophy has become one of the two dominant ideologies of our modern political tradition. A thorough understanding of Conservatism's lineage, principles, and impact on history is essential to making sense of the 21st-century political dialogue—a dialogue that consumes the television you watch, the newspapers you read, and the radio you listen to.

No matter where you place yourself on the ideological spectrum, the 36 lectures of Professor Patrick Allitt's The Conservative Tradition will intrigue you, engage you, and maybe even provoke you to think about this political philosophy in an entirely new way.

Explore the Growth of Conservatism

Stability may well be the greatest shared element of both Conservatism and modern Liberalism. The United States has now been without a revolution for more than 200 years and Britain for more than 300 years—even though nearly every other industrialized nation has been forced to undergo that traumatic national ordeal, sometimes more than once.

In crafting his exploration of just why this has happened, Professor Allitt has specifically designed his lectures to be objective, neutral, and intellectually satisfying for every viewer and listener—whatever their ideological outlook.

Using an easygoing and engaging style, he shows you

  • how Anglo-American Conservatism developed and evolved in both Great Britain and the United States;
  • how traditional Conservatism produced evolutionary variants like Neoconservatism, Paleoconservatism, Theoconservatism, and Libertarianism; and
  • the provocative ways in which Conservatism has interacted with differing political philosophies. These have involved not only challenging opposing views but just as often contributing to them, helping to produce both the rise of modern Liberalism and the emergence of the two-party system.

Learn about the People behind the Philosophy

As he traces Conservatism's development in both nations, examining the debate between Conservatives and their opponents and the internal debate between Conservatives themselves, Professor Allitt moves back and forth across the Atlantic, revealing the impact on both nations of ideas, events, and, above all, the powerful personalities who have left their marks on history.

  • John Stuart Mill, the British economist and philosopher whose writings on the philosophy of utilitarianism and free markets, on the one hand, and advocacy of equal rights for women and minorities and freedom of speech and thought, on the other, have led both Conservatives and Liberals to claim him as a founding voice
  • Ayn Rand, the Russian émigré novelist and philosopher whose work influenced a generation of Libertarian thinkers, including former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, once a member of her inner circle
  • Francis Schaeffer, the Christian evangelical theologian credited not only with coining the term "secular humanism" but with helping spark the rise of the Christian Right

In addition, Professor Allitt shows you the contributions made by other major theorists and practitioners, including Adam Smith, Henry Adams, Alexander Hamilton, William Pitt the Younger, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan.

And he takes you deep inside the Conservative movement to reveal the influence of voices from other parts of the culture, such as journalists H. L. Mencken and William F. Buckley Jr. and economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek.

A Neutral Examination Both Sides Can Learn From

As you listen to Professor Allitt discuss the fascinating history of Conservatism, you'll likely be surprised to discover, whether your own leanings are Conservative or Liberal, how much of your side's views came from or were influenced by the other. You'll gain a more rounded understanding of not just your point of view but of the opposing side's, as well.

By the end of this course, you'll have an enhanced appreciation of the development of a philosophy that, Professor Allitt reminds us, has been "perhaps the dominant phenomenon of recent American politics" and how it has impacted both sides of the political spectrum. Whether you consider yourself a Liberal or a Conservative—or something in between—The Conservative Tradition can make you a more effective and informed citizen, armed with a sharpened understanding of the ways in which this philosophy has influenced events around the world.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    What Is Conservatism?
    The opening lecture explains some definitions of Conservatism and previews Professor Allitt's approach to exploring its rich and varied lineage in both Britain and America and its fund of ideas and principles. Each is explored within the context of contemporaneous historical events and debate. x
  • 2
    The Glorious Revolution and Its Heritage
    In gaining a grasp of Tory ideas about politics during the early years of Parliament's supremacy, you learn much about the roots of English Conservatism, including Lord Bolingbroke's comments about what we now call the "loyal opposition." His views would influence generations of subsequent English and American politicians. x
  • 3
    Burke, Tradition, and the French Revolution
    Learn about the ideas of Edmund Burke, the Whig politician whose Reflections on the Revolution in France is regarded by many Conservatives as the founding text of their political creed. His book, written after the conflict's early stages, counseled respect for tradition and avoidance of radical change. x
  • 4
    Pitt and the Wars of the French Revolution
    Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger was to Conservatism's politics what Burke was to its theory. Learn why he is probably the one man to whom it is easiest to trace the growth of Britain's Conservative Party. x
  • 5
    The American Revolution
    The underpinnings of America's revolution were really as "un-revolutionary" as could be. See how many of its leaders actually looked back to a long British tradition of liberty under limited government and the heritage of the Glorious Revolution, and how large numbers of the populace remained loyal to the crown. x
  • 6
    The Federalists
    Strongly influenced by the Western political tradition, America's Constitution can be seen as a very conservative kind of revolutionary document. Learn about the Federalists' role in creating and passing it and their dismay over the eventual changes in national direction brought by Thomas Jefferson and his party. x
  • 7
    Conservatives in the American South
    Southern plantation owners wanted to be left to their own devices, without the federal government imposing its power on their states. Explore how these desires combined with unapologetic racist justifications for slavery to shape the face of southern Conservatism. x
  • 8
    Northern Antebellum Conservatism
    See how concerns over President Andrew Jackson becoming a tyrant—with democracy turning into mere demagoguery—became the catalyst for the formation of a new political party. The Whigs drew their nucleus from remnants of the Federalist Party in New England and prosperous businessmen throughout the Union. x
  • 9
    Opposing the Great Reform Act
    A mood of romantic conservatism in early 19th-century England pitted Conservatives against reform movements like Catholic emancipation and the Great Reform Act of 1832. See that Conservatives vigorously resisted passage of such bills, which began the slow process of making Britain a parliamentary democracy. x
  • 10
    Robert Peel and the Conservative Revival
    Follow the career of Robert Peel, who built the modern Conservative Party. Although he presided over a great Conservative revival, his rivalries with Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone created a party rift. x
  • 11
    Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, Mill
    Take a ride on the swinging pendulum of political definitions as you meet the pioneers of free-market capitalism. The same principles now considered bulwarks of modern Conservatism then marked them as radicals, with some of their admirers even now referring to them as "classical Liberals." x
  • 12
    Conservatism and the American Civil War
    Can the Civil War be considered the clash of two Conservative philosophies? Judge for yourself as you see conservative southern states secede from the Union while northern Conservatives refused to acknowledge their secession as legitimate. x
  • 13
    Industrialists, Mugwumps, Traditionalists
    With American industrialization accelerating after the Civil War, at least three different brands of Conservatism surfaced, including the "Gospel of Wealth" argued by Andrew Carnegie; the older Republican values of the "Mugwumps"; and the longing for an even more-distant past evident in the works of Henry Adams. x
  • 14
    Disraeli and Tory Imperialism
    Meet Benjamin Disraeli, the outsider who converted from Judaism to Anglicanism and enjoyed a meteoric ascent through the ranks of the Conservative Party. Creating much of the structure of the modern Conservative Party, Disraeli remained an inspirational figure to the party for more than a century. x
  • 15
    The Rise of Labour and the House of Lords
    Although the American trade union movement never created a political party of its own, you see how Britain's union movement did just that, with the founding of the Labour Party in 1900 carrying powerful implications for both the Liberal and Conservative parties. x
  • 16
    The Idea of Anglo-Saxon Supremacy
    Racism was intellectually respectable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with Anglo-Saxons seen as destined to rule the rest of the world. Explore how this idea influenced Conservative thought in Britain and America. x
  • 17
    No Vote for Women
    While today's belief is that men and women are similar in all essentials except the most physical, articulate Britons and Americans in the early 20th century were more struck by the differences. Explore how this different perspective made itself felt in the debate over suffrage for women. x
  • 18
    American Conservatives after World War I
    Under a trio of Conservative Republican presidents, the 1920s was a period of prosperity throughout the United States. Examine how isolated Conservatives—including groups known as the New Humanists and the Southern Agrarians, along with journalist H. L. Mencken—deplored this turn to materialism. x
  • 19
    Opposing the New Deal
    The onset of the Great Depression would transform American Conservatism. Explore how Conservatives reacted to both the New Deal and to arguments over whether America should stand behind Britain in defending European civilization in the Second World War, or remain aloof from a conflict in which the nation had no vital interest. x
  • 20
    The Tory Party from Bonar Law to Churchill
    Britain entered the interwar years sobered and psychologically wounded by the First World War. Learn how a string of Conservative leaders, though holding power much of this time, offered mediocre leadership until the crisis of the oncoming war forced the party to turn to Winston Churchill. x
  • 21
    The Reaction to Labour and Nationalization
    Gain insight into the reasons why Churchill, in spite of victory, was repudiated in 1945 by an electorate to whom he represented the wrong kind of Conservatism: backward-looking, elitist, and dedicated to class distinctions and empire. Although he would eventually lead the Conservatives back to power, he was unable to reverse the massive political and economic changes of the postwar years. x
  • 22
    American Anticommunism and McCarthyism
    American Conservatives, already afraid of Socialism, were horrified by the militant Communism of Lenin's Bolsheviks. See how anticommunism gradually became one of the defining features of postwar American Conservatism. x
  • 23
    American Traditionalists
    While McCarthyism was making headlines in the early 1950s, a quieter, self-identified Conservative movement was also taking shape and becoming intellectually influential. This lecture explores some of the thinkers prominent in this movement, including Ross Hoffman, Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, Walter Lippmann, and Peter Viereck. x
  • 24
    See a third strand of the new American Conservatism emerge in the 1950s, as Libertarianism joined anti-Communism and traditionalism. Its adherents had virtually unlimited faith in the powers of the free market, deplored state intervention in the economy, and regarded personal liberty as the highest possible good. x
  • 25
    National Review and Barry Goldwater
    Enjoy a front-row seat as Conservatism in America achieves a level of unity with the publication of William F. Buckley Jr.'s National Review in 1955. Anti-Communist, anti-big government, and sympathetic to traditional values—the magazine soon becomes the central journal of the Conservative movement. x
  • 26
    Upheavals of the 1960s
    Why did the Conservative movement gain adherents during the 1960s, despite the defeat of Conservative Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater? You'll grasp the answer in the galvanizing influence of the Vietnam War, the spread of affirmative action, and an increasingly activist—and often violently demonstrative—youth culture on college campuses. x
  • 27
    The Neoconservatives
    Among the sharpest critics of the new Conservatives in the 1950s were a group of Liberal social scientists, including Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Samuel Huntington, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. See how the unfolding social turbulence of the 1960s prompted them to begin thinking in different directions. x
  • 28
    The Neoconservatives and Foreign Policy
    In the 1970s Saigon fell, the Soviet Union built a world-spanning navy, and revolutions broke out in Iran and Nicaragua. See that the Neoconservatives—who had come to share the Conservatives' views on domestic issues—began to join them on foreign policy, as well. x
  • 29
    Christian Conservatives and the New Right
    For five decades, evangelical Protestants in America had avoided direct involvement in politics. You grasp how societal changes in the 1960s and 1970s—including feminism, the sexual revolution, gay rights, and the legalization of abortion—prompted some evangelical leaders to rethink their position. x
  • 30
    Margaret Thatcher's Counterrevolution
    Margaret Thatcher, a shopkeeper's daughter from Grantham, was an unlikely figure to rise to the leadership of the Conservative Party. Learn how she nevertheless became the decisive personality of her era and left an impression on the country as vivid as that left 40 years before by Winston Churchill. x
  • 31
    Monarchs and Prime Ministers
    Examine how John Major, the successor to Margaret Thatcher, consolidated her counterrevolution and gave further evidence that the Conservative Party was no longer the preserve of aristocrats. Meanwhile, see how the outpouring of grief at the death of Princess Diana in 1997 demonstrated the continuing emotional appeal of royalty and the monarchy's skill over three centuries of adapting to changing times. x
  • 32
    Reagan Triumphant
    You look at the rise of Ronald Reagan, who was to American Conservatism what Thatcher was to British Conservatism. Enjoying great personal popularity, he was able to make Conservatism seem normal, friendly, relaxed, and all-American, qualities it had certainly not exhibited in the 1950s and 1960s. x
  • 33
    The End of the Cold War
    When most of the Communist world collapsed at the end of the 1980s, American Conservatives were taken by surprise. Explore America's dilemma in navigating this strange new world. Should it withdraw into isolationism, or exert its power to influence all future global crises? x
  • 34
    Paleoconservatives and Theoconservatives
    Look at the arguments of those American Conservatives who were opposed to a foreign policy based on trying to democratize the world. Among them were the Paleoconservatives, which included southern descendents of the Agrarians; Libertarians; and the Theoconservatives, a group of ecumenical religious writers organized by Richard John Neuhaus. x
  • 35
    Culture Wars
    Focus on several writers, including Allan Bloom, E. D. Hirsch, Lynne Cheney, and Roger Kimball, who lamented what they considered a decline in civilization and civility. They argued that Conservatives had won the battle for national politics, but not the one for the souls of young Americans. x
  • 36
    Unresolved Paradoxes
    This final lecture summarizes the issues discussed in the course. See why, no matter how Anglo-American Conservatives react to new challenges, they have good reason, whatever their short-term anxieties, to approach the future in a mood of quiet confidence. x

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  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
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Your professor

Patrick N. Allitt

About Your Professor

Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching...
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The Conservative Tradition is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 82.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing I own about 2 dozen of the Great Courses. All the professors are good. Most of them are very good. Professor Allitt is the best of the best.
Date published: 2019-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great review of British and USA history I have only had a chance to listen to four of the lectures, but they have been facinating -- giving a good overview of the times/thinkings/perspectives of the people and leaders in the 1600's and 1700's. The teacher matches the thought of other professors -- I am especially thinking about the course Thinking about Capitalism.
Date published: 2019-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A GREAT CHOICE This is a terrific course, led by a professor who is organized, interesting and very easy to understand. The emphasis is on British conservatism but America is not excluded. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2019-06-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Be careful about buying the DVD/video download Overall, I'm pleased with the content and organization of this course. Overall, I think Dr. Allitt did a fine job with the course . Happily, he discusses the various topics with objectivity and a primary interest of explaining the issue with very minimal editorializing; this alone distinguishes him (and the product) from the typical classroom experience. The only time I felt like he let his personal views overshadow the content was when he very casually dismisses Allan Bloom's and Roger Kimball's attacks on the leftist bias of the university. He obviously disagrees with this, stating rather blatantly in the reading list for each author's respective book that they're incorrect - which is surprising, given that I wasn't expecting the reading list to include the professor's personal feelings about the worthiness of the book: just say what it is and the information that's included within. I am knocking off one star, though, and offering a warning to anyone interested in this title. My recommendation is that you order the AUDIO download, as there's little reason to spend the extra money for the video or DVD. Unlike other GREAT COURSES that I've purchased (History of Eastern Europe and Turning Points in the Middle East - most recently), there are effectively no visual elements to these lectures. Personally, I found that a little distracting: in the other courses that I've watched, there were corresponding images or short videos to accompany what the professors were talking about; here, it was for the most part just a camera placed right in front of the professor. I'm sure Dr. Allitt didn't have creative control over the production elements, but it did make me question why I paid the extra money for the DVD, when I could've gotten the same content for way less by just going with the audio download.
Date published: 2019-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A surprise I got this course because it seemed potentially interesting, and it appeared different from many Teaching Company courses I had purchased. Personally, I am more willing to take chances on audio courses, because they seemed to be becoming more rare, and I can listen to them when I run outside. However, I really didn't have great expectations for this one, and politically, I am definitely not conservative. Was I surprised! The lectures are fascinating. Dr. Allitt is well informed and has a excellent presentation style. (His British accent is very nice to listen to.) He has, in many instances, made conservative positions, if not compelling, definitely worth considering. Further, he accomplished at least one of his goals in the course, it is not at all obvious what positions he holds personally. His unbiased approach is a welcomed plus . This course is a real gem.
Date published: 2019-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic and Insightful Allitt's presentation style and depth of knowledge is exceptional. He does a great job of helping you entertain intellectual positions that you may have never considered or view as immoral.
Date published: 2019-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough without dragging As a "history major," I tend to view life through that lens. Dr. Allitt's presentation helps me pull a lot of pieces together with frequent "Aha moments," as in, "Aha. So that's why they do or say that." It makes me more respectful toward the conservative tradition even when that's not my natural inclination. Now I know why.
Date published: 2018-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Made me look at English history. I started this course about three weeks ago. In tracing the roots of conservatism the dominant literature came from England. On realizing how weak my British history was, I started reading Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People. I’ve finished up to Richard the Lion Hearted. When I get about two centuries futher along, I will pick up on Lecture Four and syncs my reading of Churchill with the course.
Date published: 2018-07-09
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