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2. Conservatism and Revolution

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In this module, we think about the French Revolution as a particular catalyst for conservative thought, focusing in particular on: (i) the course of the French Revolution from its idealistic beginnings to the chaos, paranoia and bloodshed of the Reign of Terror; (ii) the response to the Revolution in England, especially Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790); (iii) Burkean conservatism: the importance of the past, the importance of institutions that embody the wisdom of the past (e.g. the church, the aristocracy) and the idea of a social contract between “those who are living, those who are dead and those who are yet to be born”; and (iv) the more strident reaction to the French Revolution on the Continent, especially in the work of Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821).


In this course, Professor Jeremy Jennings (King’s College, London) explores the history of conservatism as a political philosophy, from its beginnings in the 18th century to election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in December 2019. In the two modules, we think about what caused conservatism to emerge in the 18th century, focusing first on general trends and then on one particular triggering event. In the third module, we outline some of the core doctrines of conservatism – the first of which is its ability to adapt to changing circumstances – before moving on in the fourth, fifth and sixth modules to think about the development of conservatism through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, up to the election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in December 2019.


Jeremy Jennings is Professor of Political Theory at King's College, London. His research focuses upon the history of political thought in France. He is presently finishing a book provisionally entitled Travels with Tocqueville and is acting as co-editor of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of French Thought. A larger, long-term project is to write a history of the concept of liberty.

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APA style

Jennings, J. (2020, December 24). Conservatism - Conservatism and Revolution [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Jennings, J. "Conservatism – Conservatism and Revolution." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 24 Dec 2020,

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