The word PRINCIPLE is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary [2011 Concise edition] as:

A fundamental truth or proposition serving as the foundation for belief or action

Is there then a fundamental truth serving as the foundation for Right wing belief ?

Certainly the world views of Right and Left are coming from very different perspectives with quite different terms of reference for their thinking.

The Right’s approach has clearly to do with present and past while the Left is looking for something to come but which is lacking in the present. The Left looks to Ideals while the Right is founded in what we know, what is certain, what is experienced.

This writer would therefore characterise the Principle for Right wing and for Left wing in this way.

Reality  is the reference point for Right wing politics, and Experience provides its terms of reference.


Idealism is the reference point for Left wing politics and radical Ideology provides its terms of reference

The dominant ideology on the Left is Socialism, usually the authoritarian Marxist variety, not the libertarian form called Anarchism.

Such ideologies give structure, form and terms of reference for their Ideal.

It is essential to understand that the terms Left and Right in politics derive from a parliamentary context, ie a context of debate and consensual decision making. They do not derive from an extra parliamentary context: their use by today’s media in reference to extra parliamentary activity is a practice which is neither  technically correct nor helpful to understanding politics properly.

The key principle of the Right has had its exponents but the first political thinker and practitioner to elaborate the value and meaning of Right wing thinking was the 18th century British politician, Edmund Burke [1729-1796]

In writing his famous book  Reflections on the Revolution in France, [1790] Burke explains and defines the thinking behind Modern Conservatism.

Burke’s Reflections demonstrates that the state of society and the liberty of the individual are fundamental concerns for the Right. His intention in the book is to show how the English constitution and culture have proven value for good order and the securing of people’s Rights; and that the situation in France at that time endangered the very Rights the Revolutionaries and their supporters were seeking.

Burke’s comments on the French Revolution were thoroughly pertinent, just as they had been about the American colonies prior to the War of Independence, about the questionable situation of British East India Company rule, and about his native Ireland.

Burke’s analysis is of inestimable value, and he is rightly seen as the father of modern Conservatism.

Reflections on the Revolution in France should therefore be read in its entirety to gain a full appreciation of the Right’s rationale.

His concluding remarks in Reflections convey the sense: Burke describes a conservatism which values the experience of the ages, eschewing radical departures, and taking its worldview from Christianity, not from the Materialism and Rationalism of Enlightenment thinking.

Burke writes:

“I wish my countryman rather to recommend to our neighbours [ie the French] the example of the British Constitution, than to take models from them  for the improvement of our own. In the former they have got an invaluable treasure. They are not, I think, without some causes of apprehension and complaint; but these they do not owe to their constitution, but to their own conduct. 

I think our happy situation owing to our constitution; but owing to the whole of it, and not to any part singly; owing in a great measure to what we have left standing in our several reviews and reformations, as well as to what we have altered or superadded.

Our people will find employment enough for a truly patriotic, free, and independent spirit, in guarding what they possess from violation.

I would not exclude alteration neither; but even when I changed, it should be to preserve. I should be led to my remedy by a great grievance. In what I did, I should follow the example of our ancestors. I would make the reparation as nearly as possible in the style of the building.

A politic caution, a guarded circumspection, a moral rather than a complexional timidity were among the ruling principles of our forefathers in their most decided conduct.

Not being illuminated with the light of which the gentlemen of France tell us they have got so abundant a share, they acted under a strong impression of the ignorance and fallibility of mankind. He [ie God] that made them thus fallible, rewarded them for having in their conduct attended to their nature.

Let us imitate their caution, if we wish to deserve their fortune, or to retain their bequests. Let us add, if we please, but let us preserve what they have left; and standing on the ground of the British constitution, let us be satisfied to admire rather than attempt to follow in their desperate flights the aëronauts of France. 

Cited from Paragraph 398 in this writer’s edition of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France entitled “CORE CONSERVATISM: Edmund Burke’s Landmark Definition”

published by Westbow Press and available from Amazon at

“CORE CONSERVATISM” provides an accessible version of Edmund Burke’s book Reflections, an Introduction, Edited Highlights of his political philosophy and a distillation of Burke’s thinking to 3 Principles and 10 Key Tenets.

“CORE CONSERVATISM” provides a comprehensive treatment but the following quotes give a brief idea of Edmund Burke’s thinking:

Quote 1 – Our liberties are historically recognised [paragraph 50 of the above mentioned edition]

Our oldest reformation is that of Magna Carta. You will see that Sir Edward Coke, that great oracle of our law, and indeed all the great men who follow him, to Blackstone, are industrious to prove the pedigree of our liberties

Quote 2 – our liberties are inherited, not mere abstract principles [paragraph 51]

In the famous law of the 3d of Charles I. called the Petition of Right, the parliament says to the king, “Your subjects have inherited this freedom”, claiming their franchises not on abstract principles “as the rights of men”, but as the rights of Englishmen, and as a patrimony derived from their forefathers.

Quote 3 – our liberties are inherently and rightly ours by long usage which the law reflects and recognises, and which constitutional reform will guarantee – they are not handed down from on high according to any condescending or transient philosophy [paragraphs 53 and 54]

You will observe that from Magna Carta to the Declaration of Right, it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties, as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity; as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right. ……………………………………………………. The people of England well know, that the idea of inheritance furnishes a sure principle of conservation, and a sure principle of transmission; without at all excluding a principle of improvement. It leaves acquisition free; but it secures what it acquires. Whatever advantages are obtained by a state proceeding on these maxims, are locked fast in a sort of family settlement; grasped as in a kind of mortmain forever. By a constitutional policy, working after the pattern of nature, we receive, we hold, we transmit our government and our privileges, in the same manner in which we enjoy and transmit our property and our lives………………………………… the whole, at one time, is never old, or middle aged, or young, but in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenour of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression. Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of state, in what we improve we are never wholly new; in what we retain we are never wholly obsolete.

Quote 4 the existence and use of Rights is bound up in the moral and practical exercise of power, not  in high minded and rational abstractions – a pertinent  comment in view of today’s political correctness [paragraph 96]

The pretended rights of these theorists are all extremes; and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false …….. The rights of men in government are their advantages; and these are often in balances between differences of good; in compromises sometimes between good and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil. Political reason is a computing principle; adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, morally and not metaphysically or mathematically, true moral denominations.

Quote 5 unfettered freedom is self defeating – it is vice and madness; true liberty must be compounded with education, wisdom, virtue and restraint [paragraph 396]

What is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue ? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice and madness, without tuition or restraint. Those who know what virtuous liberty is, cannot bear to see it disgraced by incapable heads, on account of their having high sounding words in their mouths.

please note that underlining is added to the original  for emphasis

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