There are many different definitions of conservatism. Which brings up the huge question, where is one to find the definitive core of "conservatism."
Is the definitive core of "conservatism" those few months when the Tea Party was fun and open to ideas or is the definitive core of conservatism, perhaps, that 180 year history as the ideology of a major political party in a leading industrial nation?
I've been receiving a great deal of grief for my assertion that one will find the definitive core of conservatism in the Conservative Party of Great Britain.
Many American Conservatives point to William F. Buckley (1925-2008), with his Ivy League education and patented transatlantic accent, as the father of conservatism.
It turns out that Buckley's transatlantic accent came about because he was educated abroad.
Who would have thought a person educated abroad would have a unique accent?
It turns out that William F. Buckley went to high school in England.
Now, I am not surprised when I find out that graduates from America's progressive public high schools can't add, can't name the major political parties in the US or can't find Florida on a US map. I suspect that this Beaumont College in Old Windsor, where Buckley when to high school, had slightly higher academic standards than progressive schools.
I suspect that Buckley was aware that Neville Chamberlain of the Conservative Party was the Prime Minister and that the opposition was a coalition of the Liberal and Labour Party.
NOTE: There are multiple parties in English politics. If a politician can stitch together a majority vote from the various parties, the politician forms a government and becomes prime minister. Those in the minorities parties form an opposition government led by the leader of the largest opposition party. When Buckley was in England, the Liberal and Labour Party formed an opposition coalition led by the Labour Party.
It is because the Liberal Party and Labour Party formed an opposition government to Conservative Governments that conservatives lump the libertarian ideals of the original Labour Party with the socialist ideals of the Labour Party under the heading "liberal."
Anyway, while it is tempting to say that William F. Buckley invented a new ideology called "conservatism" from the aether. The fact that Buckley went to school in England tells me that he was aware of the fact that England had a political party called "The Conservative Party." The fact that Buckley's ideology lumps socialism under the header "liberal" seems to reflect the fact that Buckley lived in England when the Labour and Liberal Parties formed the opposition to the Conservative government.
I hope that it is clear to anyone with half a brain that Buckley was importing his thoughts about English parliamentary politics to the United States.
I apologize to people living in Great Britain. But I reject wholly this idea that Buckley's ideas about British parliamentary politics makes a strong foundation for American political philosophy.
I contend that the defining core of conservatism is found in the Conservative Party of Great Britain in 1834 and which has had a 180 year history of being a primary force in the politics of Great Britain.
The term "liberalism" comes from English politics as well, but has been poisoned with time.
It appears that the driving force of early conservatism in 1834 was Sir Robert Peel (1788 – 1850) who created a coalition between the British establishment of England the aristocracy of England (the establishment were derisively called Tories) and moderates from the Whig Party.
In forming the Conservative Party, Peel drew heavily on the conflict between Edmund Burke (1729-1797) and Charles James Fox (1749-1806).
Apparently, Sir Robert Peel supported free trade and religious tolerance while traditionalists in the conservative movement did not.
The Liberal Party was formed in 1859 when followers of Sir Robert Peel left the Conservative Coalition to form a coalition government with members of the Whig Party. The Conservative Party of 1859 was primarily a party of those who supported the establishment and regulated commerce.
The Liberal ideal of religious tolerance touched on the hairy issue of Catholic Emancipation as Catholics in Ireland sought independence. Liberals who were opposed to Irish Home Rule left the Liberal Party to form a coalition with the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party changed its name to the Conservative and Union Party. The Liberal Party fell into minority status and eventually disappeared. NOTE: Members of the Labour and Liberal coalition created an ideal called "Social Liberalism" that was fundamentally at odds with the classical liberalism of the previous century.
Key moments in the 180 British Conservative tradition involved opposition to free trade (in 1859) and opposition to religious tolerance.