It is a general feature of human experience that a large segment of the population will have an attachment to past or current ways of doing things. As a political attitude, this attachment forms the basis of what is nowadays called conservatism. The conservative political attitude is therefore a near universal phenomenon. Along with the universality of conservatism, however, we must remember another important fact: there is such disagreement among conservatives that identifying a set of ideals or values that is common to all conservatives is difficult. For example, the conservatism of populists like Donald Trump is very different compared with the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and neither of these conservatives have much in common with Benjamin Disraeli or John A. MacDonald, two proponents of what has been called Tory democracy.
It is in the nature of conservatism that it will differ from place to place. At the simplest level, it aims to conserve; the specific traditions a conservative movement will seek to conserve depend on the political traditions in question. That is why, for example, American conservatism is often different than Canadian conservatism: conservatives in each country are attempting to conserve different traditions and institutions.
Most conservative outlooks fall into one of two broad categories: classical conservatism and modern conservatism (sometimes called the New Right). This chapter will examine both variants, but first looking at classical conservatism, then modern conservatism. A final section will look at the future of the ideology.