Modern Age XXIV, Winter 1980

"Conservatives, from Burke on, have tended to see the population much in the manner medieval legists and philosophical realists (in contrast to nominalists) saw it: as composed of, not individuals directly, but the natural groups within which individuals invariably live: family, locality, church, region, social class, nation, and so on. Individuals exist, of course, but they cannot be seen or comprehended save in terms of social identities which are inseparable from groups and associations. If modern conservatism came into existence essentially through such a work as Burke's attack on the French Revolution, it is because the Revolution, so often in the name of the individual and his natural rights, destroyed or diminished the traditional groups - guild, aristocracy, patriarchal family, church, school, province, etc. - which Burke declared to be the irreducible and constitutive molecules of society. Such early conservatives as Burke, Bonald, Haller, and Hegel (of The Philosophy of Right) and such conservative liberals as the mature Lamennais and of course Tocqueville, saw individualism - that is, the absolute doctrine of individualism - as being as much of a menace to social order and true freedom as the absolute doctrine of nationalism. Indeed, they argued, it is the pulverizing of society into a sandheap of individual particles, each claiming natural rights, that makes the arrival of collectivist nationalism inevitable."
- Robert Nisbet, Conservatives and Libertarians: Uneasy Cousins.


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