25. Evolutionary Change And Conservatism
From 'The Australian Achievement' by LJM Cooray (1996)

The values and institutions of the democratic order are the consequence of a process of gradual development. This dimension, which has surfaced in many parts of the above analysis (particularly in the analysis of the common law), cannot be over-emphasised.

The word "conservatism" is today a dirty word. The term "conservative" is often used as a term of abuse. A popular definition of a conservative is of one who stands for the status quo. Very few people are for the status quo and satisfied with all aspects of it. An evolutionary conservative could be defined as one who is in favour of gradual change but is distrustful of those who attempt to destroy existing institutions without having a clear understanding of what they are putting in their place. It is easy to demonstrate the inadequacies in existing institutions and to suggest change without realising that the suggested changes may produce more problems. They may remedy some disadvantage of the existing system but give rise to other unforeseen disadvantages. A conservative would say that he believes in weighing what exists before discarding it and in testing what is proposed in the light of circumstances, prudence and experience. These familiar conservative lessons will not sound quite so banal when the development of European political and intellectual life since 1789 is borne in mind and when it is remembered what has been done in the name of equality, social justice, etc, in revolutionary France, in Hitler's National Socialist Germany, in many communist societies in Europe and more recently in Africa, the Middle East and Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia and China). The gradual change being effected (cumulatively very considerable) in so-called democracies is proving to be counter-productive and is providing ever increasing power to government. History has many important things to say about the fate which awaits men who despise a limited style of politics, the politics of imperfection, and set their sights too high. An evolutionary conservative could have a sensitive feeling and concern regarding social injustices. But he believes there are no easy (and sometimes no difficult) solutions to human problems. He believes that the great enemies of society are the misguided reformers who believe with unashamed arrogance that they have solutions to complicated problems and wish to use the police power of the state to impose their views on society.

An understanding of the evolutionary and unplanned development of liberal values and institutions is essential to an analysis of the rise of western civilisation. This aspect does not easily lend itself to analysis. It is therefore an undervalued factor.