“Some liberals start with a contract that rational and self-interested agents would supposedly arrive at in a hypothetical situation, and evaluate political arrangements on the basis of how closely they conform to the terms of the supposed contract. Utilitarian liberals start with some ideal of individual or collective welfare, and aim to change political arrangements so as to be better means to the achievement of their ideal. Socialist start with the desirability of a classless or egalitarian society, and criticize the prevailing arrangements for failing to conform to what they regard as most worth having. Revolutionaries and terrorists start with the goal of destroying the existing arrangements because they regard them as evil. Romantics and reactionaries start with some idyllic Golden Age in the past, and they see the present as a corrupt falling away from it. In starting thus, all these opponents of conservatism begin with a presumption against the existing political arrangements. And they will take themselves to have arrived at their destination if they succeed in transforming these arrangements into what they think they ought to be. Conservatives differ from them because they start with a presumption in favor of the existing political arrangements, unless they are incorrigibly evil, and they aim to correct them only to the extent that coping with the conflicts makes necessary.
“Conservatives start with this presumption because they take the endurance of the traditional arrangements of quite good and not-so-bad societies to be a strong initial reason for supporting them, and because they think that the arrangements are unlikely to have endured unless they helped those subject to them to live good lives. The initial reason may be overridden if it is found on further reflection that the arrangements contributed to good lives only negligibly or that there are stronger reasons in favor of other ways of trying to make lives better. It is also true, of course, that the traditional arrangements of bad societies are so wretched as to exclude any presumption in their favor. In which case, conservatives will not be even initially disposed to support them.”
▪ John Kekes, A Case for Conservatism (Cornell University Press, 1998) extract from pages 14 and 15.