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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  • Download 36 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
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  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Timeline

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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 4.6 out of 5 by 91.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking An altogether interesting and thought provoking comparative history of conservative and liberal thought in the Britain and the USA. I wish the course were more recent and included the post-Trade-Center years. I do strongly disagree with his contention that Communism is dead, though. The Communist party still exists in Russia, it is just not in power. And he seemingly ignores that about a quarter of the world's population still live under Communism in Asia.
Date published: 2020-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great objective material Professor Patrick Allitt is terrific in his presentation of this course material. He gives reasons on both sides of the issues and explains what the feelings and attitudes were at the time (very much unlike what we see today when denigrating historical figures). I am 81 years old and have seen our constitutional rights diminishing over the past 20 years or so. It is sad to me that future generations will much less free by ignoring the lessons of history.
Date published: 2020-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A perfect perspective from a POME in the US I love this guy! Allitt is a UK guy living in the US, and has a p erfect perspective of Conservative thought, which took fruit in these two countries. I tend to judge a guy's lectures by seeing how he treats events that I already know something about in order to see if he's trustworthy in regards to what I'm not familiar with. I agree 100% with him on what I lived through, so he is completely objective and accurate in his portrayal of the beginnings, strenghts and trials of Conservative thought. I'd recommend this to everyone from Thomas Sowell to Nancy Pelosi.
Date published: 2020-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful history and analysis of conservatism. Dr. Allitt is wonderfully fluent and completely prepared in every lecture. His use of the English language is marvelous and his presentations are orderly and clear. This history is very much worth hearing and understanding; he reveals how ideas shift from time to time and from person to person, like waves passing to and fro in the collective mind, some being temporarily dominant but always changing.
Date published: 2020-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening Very good. I found the early history of the conservatives very interesting. Some of it was not even touched on, even in my college years.
Date published: 2020-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fighting Political and Social Progress Since 1775 Conservatism was born in the late eighteenth century as a reaction to the forces breaking down the existing order of privilege: revolution, utopianism, and a growing thirst for political and social equality. As those forces evolved during the next two centuries and more, so did conservatism. In Britain the social origins of conservative leaders have changed as well, from landowning gentry to the children of shopkeepers and workers (Margaret Thatcher and John Major). Allitt rightly urges listeners to take conservatism seriously as an intellectual enterprise and to understand participants on their own terms. The course’s scope is limited to Anglo-American politics, so admirers of Joseph de Maistre, Clemens von Metternich, Tsar Nicholas I, and Otto von Bismarck will have to look elsewhere. Conservatives share certain characteristics. They prefer the way things are to the way things might be. They might be open to small improvements but reject radical attempts to birth a new society. They are skeptical about reforming human nature, seeing sin, warfare and inequality in talents and endowments as permanent realities. They also dislike cultural and moral change, preferring existing, old or even long outmoded perspectives and tastes to new ones. Yet at the same time, there is surprising diversity. Some conservatives have supported strongly centralized government while others have wanted it decentralized. Among the latter, self-proclaimed defenders of “states’ rights” in the US are the most obvious example. Some conservatives have favored free trade (Robert Peel, Ronald Reagan) while others have not. Look also at the different prewar attitudes toward Nazi Germany between Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill. In the early 21st century the American right has neoconservatives who emphasize armed force and imperial expansion (“spreading freedom”), sexually repressive and anti-feminist Christian conservatives who want to restore “traditional family values,” and libertarians favoring minimal regulation and taxation. Conservatism has also produced a huge cast of characters, some of them quite colorful. The most famous politicians are all here, Edmund Burke, John C. Calhoun, Benjamin Disraeli, Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, as are prominent promoters like William F. Buckley, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Norman Podhoretz, and Jerry Falwell. There are notable opponents of change who found themselves rolled over by events, like loyalists Joseph Galloway and William Franklin (son of Benjamin), US Senator Elihu Root (who resigned in protest against popular election of senators), women’s suffrage opponent Helen Kendrick Johnson, and isolationist Charles Lindbergh. Then there the writers forgotten today except by historians, like US Whig Calvin Colton, architect and modern art opponent Ralph Adams Cram, “New Humanist” Irving Babbitt, libertarian Albert Jay Nock, and academia critic Roger Kimball. That many people with that many ideas over that much time will often find as much to disagree about as to agree. Diversity is the greatest strength of this course. Its greatest weakness is its failure to deal with the very ugly realities beneath the ideas. First, opponents of widening suffrage may have genuinely believed that the proposed voters, such as British workingmen, African American men or women of any sort, were unsuited to exercising it, but they also didn’t want to share power or risk their political, economic and social supremacy. Tangible interests come first, and then the justifications. Second, men of the 18th and 19th centuries that sound like conservatives today engaged in revolutionary destruction rather than protecting the status quo. In the US they wiped out a mosaic of small American Indian self-sufficient societies with white-owned commercial farms growing for regional, national or international markets. In both countries, well-funded capitalists assumed command of the industrial economy, sweeping aside independent craftsmen and small workshops. Third, the durable appeal of conservative parties, movements and policies has depended heavily on racism in both US and UK and nativism in the US. In the British case, racism helped justify the expansion of empire in Africa and its preservation in India, extending to a carefully cultivated apathy in the face of several massive famines that killed millions of Indians. For the US, Allitt might have discussed Madison Grant’s 1916 Passing of the Great Race, which helped prepare public opinion to restrict immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe in 1924. There was also Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic newspaper the Dearborn Independent (1919-27). Many whites didn’t just believe African Americans were inferior, they enforced this “truth” through collective violence, fraud and legislation. Today, more than ten years after Allitt’s course was published, Donald Trump is president partly because he claimed for years that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US and partly because he denounced Mexican immigrants as dangerous criminals. In the guidebook, Allitt chides that historians ought not to take sides; they should just explain the facts and keep their opinions to themselves. This is of course impossible. Historians must select some facts as more important and relevant than others and they must offer some interpretation. By soft-selling conservatism as often reasonable and wholesome while ignoring the cost to its victims, Allitt is taking its side whether he admits it or not. Still, with the massive caveat I have just posed, I still recommend the course as highly educational. I hope Professor Allitt will consider designing a comparable course on Anglo-American liberalism.
Date published: 2020-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid Half way through. It's good and comprehensive. Properly academic
Date published: 2019-10-18
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
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