Abstract: What is a conservative disposition? And can it supply any insights into a UK constitution distinguished in recent years by rapid and far-reaching change? We offer some initial answers to these questions. Our starting point is that conservatism presents a very curious contrast within the study of public law in the UK. On the one hand, it is commonplace for arguments, policies, cases, individuals, and even large spans of constitutional history to be characterised as ‘conservative’. On the other hand, these are often no more than throwaway characterisations, with little reflection on what it means to describe something or someone in this way. In a discipline noted for its careful examination of ideas such as democracy, sovereignty, and the rule of law, together with the intellectual commitments that inform and underlie them, it is noteworthy that public lawyers award conservatism no serious interrogation. Not only are answers to questions about the nature, content, and limits of conservatism not forthcoming, but the questions themselves are rarely even posed. We suspect that, as a result, conservatism—and, more especially, what might be termed a conservative disposition—is poorly understood within constitutional thought. In this essay, we seek to remedy this by identifying some of the insights that a conservative disposition has to offer public lawyers striving to make sense of the UK’s constitution during a period of unusually high levels of change and uncertainty.
Graham Gee is Professor of Public Law in the University of Sheffield.
Grégoire Webber holds the Canada Research Chair in Public Law and Philosophy of Law at Queen's University and is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics. In 2016-2017, Dr Webber served as legal affairs advisor to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
This event is part of the Aspects of Conservatism series exploring elements of a conservative outlook in more detail. The series is convened by Tom Simpson, Associate Professor of Philosophy & Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, and Senior Research Fellow, Wadham College, University of Oxford. Further details and a full list of the Aspects of Conservatism events are available here. The event is being co-sponsored by the Programme for the Foundations of Law and Constitutional Government, Faculty of Law.