Benjamin Disraeli and the Conservative Response to Change (J Tyler Syck, 1/02/24, American Daily Press)

[I]n the face of rapid industrialization, conservative politicians found themselves facing a difficulty never before encountered.

Conservatives at the time hit upon two different approaches. The first, pioneered by British Prime Minister Robert Peel, was to embrace the brave new post-industrial world wholesale, merely working to implement social change in a slow, moderate fashion. The second, largely a continuation of old-fashioned conservative strategy, was to stand opposed to all change and work to undo industrialization. Disraeli thought both approaches were deeply wrong-headed. Disraeli thought Peel’s approach was hardly different from liberalism. In Coningsby, the most political of his novels, he describes Peel’s brand of conservatism as “an attempt to construct a party without principles.” However, Disraeli thought the old guard of his party was little better. By attempting to stand against the forces of industrialization and stop all change, they were trying the impossible.

Disraeli offered a middle ground between these two approaches. He summarized his view in a speech delivered before a crowded banquet hall in Scotland: “In a progressive country change is a constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws, and the traditions of a people,” which are the real source of human freedom and happiness. In short, Disraeli believed that the job of conservatives was neither to embrace nor to stop change but to work to preserve and adapt those institutions that sustain human flourishing. In practice, this meant a conservatism that provided generous welfare to the poor while at the same time bolstering custom, tradition, law, and religion.