The pre-world war two conservatives were elitist, individualistic isolationists. They had great contempt for the masses. Once the masses became the middle class this became untenable and conservatives had to acquiesce to the revealed reality that the masses weren't really specifically created by God to do mankind's heavy lifting. The "most important books" section on the"Intellectual Conservative" website has some interesting narratives about this sea change in conservatism.
The "new conservatives" came to the fore after World War Two and found common cause in the assertion that traditional morality had been declining, at least during the 20th century, and America needed to return to its former moral ways. Russell Kirk re-introduced Edmund Burke to those with a conservative bent.
William Buckley began to publish the "National Review," putting together a hodge podge staff of social misfits. The Intellectual Conservative also traces Buckley's journey from Traditionalism to NeoCon.
WHO ARE THESE CONSERVATIVES?
According to Russell Kirk, "conscious conservatism...did not manifest itself until 1790, with the publication of Reflections on the Revolution in France." by Edmund Burke. [Kirk, Page 6]
Burke’s problem with the revolution, says Jeffrey Hart, was that the philosophers of the French Revolution proposed an "abstract and unhistorical" freedom that was the right of an "abstract man." Burke was interested in the specific freedoms that Englishmen enjoyed and had wrested from their monarchy. [Buckley and Kesler, Page 48]
Kirk is noted for defining "Six Canons of Conservatism," which were largely drawn from the writing of Burke.
Here is our paraphrasing of a few of Kirk’s Six Canons :
The world as it is has come about as a consequence partly of Divine Fiat and partly as a consequence of English men using their right reason to ascertain God’s moral code, which has, through long usage, become custom and cultural wisdom. The world as it is is as good as it could be and was meant to be.
God has ordained that society be constructed on orders and classes and God has given each person the necessary talents to fill his Divinely ordained role in society. By and large things should be kept as they are. Change is OK if it is done slowly through changes in social consensus.
Even though God has ordained that men have unequal talents and roles in society some people want to make men more equal in status and consequences. This "leveling" impulse is a bad idea. Men would only become unhappier and alienated. Men derive their identity from their social roles and relationships and will lose them with leveling. With leveling everyone will tend to become mediocre and we won’t be able to distinguish one person from the next. That’s bad.
We should use tried and true custom to guide our lives and England. Some people want to make radical social change but the consequences will probably result in a worse society than we have now. The transcendental realm is, after all, the ultimate reality and that has been embodied in our present society through the faith of wise and good men.
That’s the main gist. Many conservatives echo Burke and Kirk, though some take issue with their focus on England and insist that the American conservative tradition is different.
The American Conservative Union Foundation declares that "Before the 1950s there were no conservatives," [in the United States] and goes on to describe the twin threads of libertarianism and traditionalism. Modern conservatism, the author says, "was invented at National Review magazine in the mid fifties," primarily by editors, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Frank Meyer. Meyer is credited with synthesizing "fusionism" from the two differing philosophies. Willmoore Kendall, Jeffrey Hart, Brent Bozell, and James Burnham were also editors and contributors.
Buckley and George Nash published anthologies of conservative writers in the 1970s and a number of them are described in both publications. The writings of Richard Weaver, Eric Voegelin, Friedrich Hayek, Albert Nock and Leo Strauss are considered significant to the explication of conservative thought.
From Many: One
Nock is described as an anarchist. Kirk and Meyer exchanged slurs about the inadequacies of the other’s philosophy. Hayek disavowed supernatural cause. Peter Viereck was disavowed as a real conservative by other conservatives later in his career.
A lot of difference of opinion is represented among the many writers who are considered, and who consider themselves, conservative.
And yet...and yet....certain themes tend to predominate.
Level Of Focus
Despite Frank Meyer’s declaration that society is a myth and the individual is supreme [Nash, Page 172] conservatives seem focused on larger collectives. Some focus on Western Civilization; some on the United States as a whole, and; some on society. Libertarians focus on the individual but invoke a large collective process, i.e., the free market.
Consistent with their focus on larger units of collectivity conservatives are interested in the stability of these units. Considerations such as democracy, equality and liberty take second place to the stability of society or the State.
Conservatives probably do not recognize that their emphasis is so placed.
Distinctions Between Men
Some conservatives believe that God purposely made men unequal in talents at the same time He ordained differences in societal status, so that each man would have the talents necessary to fill his role in society. Others believe that the differences among men are consistent with a natural order - without saying how nature came to be as it is.
Something Larger Than The Individual
Most, but not all, conservatives believe the individual owes an allegiance to something larger than himself, such as God, society or the State. They generally believe in the Christian, and often Catholic, view of life, in which the relationships that man has are the most important: between man and God and man and the State. The traditionalist view is that individual men have duties and obligations to God and the State into which they are born. It is not a matter of choice.
Opposition to Collectivism, Statism and Democracy
Nash describes mainstream conservatism as "antimajoritarian," and describes the writings of conservatives who argue that antimajoritarianism
is the American Tradition. The Founders, conservatives say, purposely created a system of government designed to prevent majority rule. They were primarily afraid that poor people, who were a majority, would take control of government.
In this opposition to collectivism and Statism a number of threads of conservative thought come together in support of the idea of resisting purposeful changes to the existing social order. Common themes are freedom for the individual and a disdain for those people who think they know how to change society for the better.
WHAT WE NEVER FOUND IN CONSERVATISM
We never found specific concern for 99.9% of the people in the world.
There’s lots of writing about stability and mankind and society and civilization and God and Christianity and the individual and government and the invisible hand and the ancients, Plato and Aristotle. All abstractions, except for Plato and Aristotle.
Conservatives are primarily concerned with maintaining the "existing social order."
We were also aware that conservative politics don’t seem to have much specific concern for every day lives as lived by ordinary people. Lots of talk about generous abstractions, but little about ordinary life.