Social conservatism

Social conservatism is a political philosophy and variety of conservatism which places emphasis on traditional power structures over social pluralism, and seeks to "reverse or stem the direction of change".[1] Social conservatism in North America rose in the early 1800s as a reaction to the perceived anti-Christian and anti-constitutional aspects of slavery, as articulated by William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln. They also engaged with the economic insecurity of lower-class Protestant Americans, McCarthyism and other challenges to social institutions. Social conservatives often promoted the organisation and politicisation of social issues.[1][2][3]

Sociologist Harry F. Dahms suggests that social conservatism relates to a "commitment" to traditional values concerned with family structures, sexual relations, patriotism, gun ownership and military invasions, describing Christian doctrinal conservatives (anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage) and gun-use conservatives (pro-NRA) as the two domains of ideology within.[4] Social conservatives also value the rights of religious institutions to participate in the public sphere, thus supporting government-religious endorsement and opposing state atheism.[5][6][7]

Social conservatism and other ideological views

Some social conservatives such as George W. Bush[8] and Michael Gerson[9] are otherwise apolitical, centrist or liberal on economic and fiscal issues. Social conservatives may sometimes support economic intervention where the intervention serves moral or cultural aims. Historian Jon Wiener has described social conservatism as historically the result of an appeal from "elitist preservationists" to lower-class workers to 'protect' wealth from immigration.[1] Many social conservatives support a balance between protectionism and a free market. This concern for material welfare, like advocacy of traditional mores, will often have a basis in religion. Examples include the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, the Family First Party and Katter's Australian Party, and the communitarian movement in the United States.

There is more overlap between social conservatism and paleoconservatism, in that they both have respect for traditional social forms.[10]

Social conservatism is not to be confused with economically interventionist conservatism, where conservative ideas are combined with Keynesian economics and a welfare state, which is practised by some European conservatives, e.g. one-nation conservatives in Britain or Gaullists in France.

Social conservatism by country


In Canada, social conservatism, though widespread, is not as prominent in the public sphere as in the United States. It is prevalent in all areas of the country but is seen as being more prominent in rural areas. It is also a significant influence on the ideological and political culture of the western provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.

Compared to social conservatism in the United States, social conservatism has not been as influential in Canada. The main reason is that the neoliberal or neoconservative style of politics as promoted by leaders such as former Liberal Party of Canada Prime Minister Paul Martin and Former Conservative Party of Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper have focused on fiscal conservatism, with little or no emphasis on moral or social conservatism.[11] Without a specific, large political party behind them, social conservatives have divided their votes and can be found in all political parties.[12]

Social conservatives often felt that they were being sidelined by officials in the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and its leadership of so-called "Red Tories" for the last half of the twentieth century and therefore many eventually made their political home with parties such as the Social Credit Party of Canada and the Reform Party of Canada. Despite the Reform Party being dominated by social conservatives, leader Preston Manning, seeking greater national support for the party, was reluctant for the party to wholly embrace socially conservative values. This led to his deposition as leader of the party (now called Canadian Alliance) in favor of social conservative Stockwell Day.[13] The party's successor, the Conservative Party of Canada, despite having a number of socially conservative members and cabinet ministers, has chosen so far not to focus on socially conservative issues in its platform. This was most recently exemplified on two occasions in 2012 when the current Conservative Party of Canada declared they had no intention to repeal same-sex marriage or abortion laws.[14]

Islamic world

Most Muslim countries are somewhat more socially conservative (such as Tajikistan, Malaysia and Indonesia) than neighbouring countries that are not Muslim. However, due to their interpretation of Islamic law also known as Shariah, they have some differences from social conservatism as understood in the nations of West Europe, North America and Oceania. Many people believe that the Islamic type of conservatism (even if it has many commons with the typical social conservatism) is more a part of Religious Conservatism than Social Conservatism.

Arab world

The Arab world has recently been more conservative in social and moral issues due to the rising influence of Western liberalism.

Hindu social conservatism

Hindu social conservatism in India in the twenty first century has developed into an influential movement. Represented in the political arena by the right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party. Hindu social conservatism, also known as the Hindutva movement, is spearheaded by the voluntary non-governmental organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The core philosophy of this ideology is nativism and sees Hinduism as a national identity rather than a religious one. Due to an inclination towards nativism, much of its platform is based on the belief that Islamic and Christian denominations in India are the result of occupations, and therefore these groups should not receive concessions from the state.[15]

In terms of political positions, Hindu social conservatives in India seek to institutionalise a Uniform Civil Code (which is also a directive under Article 44 of the Constitution of India) for members of all religions,[16] over the current scheme of different personal laws for different religions. For instance, polygamy is legal for Muslims in India but not Hindus.

Muslim social conservatism

There are several socially conservative Muslim organisations in India, ranging from groups such as the Indian Union Muslim League which aim to promote the preservation of Indian Muslim culture as a part of the nation's identity and history.

South Africa

Social conservatism had an important place in Apartheid South Africa ruled by the National Party. Pornography,[17] gambling[18] and other activities that were deemed undesirable were severely restricted. The majority of businesses were forbidden from doing business on Sunday.[19]

Despite the legalisation of same-sex marriage and polygamy, in modern-day South Africa, the population remains heteronormative on issues such as homosexuality with 80% of the population against homosexuality.[20]

United States

Social conservatism in the United States is a right-wing political ideology that opposes social progressivism. It is centered on the preservation of what adherents often call 'traditional' or 'family values', though the accepted aims of the movement often vary amongst the organisations it comprises, making it hard to generalise about ideological preferences. There are, however, a number of general principles to which at least a majority of social conservatives adhere, such as opposition to abortion and opposition to same-sex marriage.

The Republican Party is the largest political party with socially conservative ideals incorporated into its platform. Other socially conservative parties include the Constitution Party and the Prohibition Party.

Social conservatives are strongest in the South, where they are a mainstream political force with aspirations to translate those ideals using the party platform nationally. In recent decades, the supporters of social conservatism played a major role in the political coalitions of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.[21]

Other areas

There are also Social Conservative movements in many parts of the world (in Latin America, East Europe, Balkans, Caucasus, Central Europe, Mediterranean countries, Southeast Asia, Oceania, etc).

List of social conservative political parties





Bosnia and Herzegovina


Czech Republic


El Salvador


Faroe Islands




















New Zealand










South Africa

South Korea




United Kingdom

Northern Ireland only

United States

Social conservative factions of political parties

See also


  1. Wiener, Jonathan (Spring 1973). "Review: The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970". The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. MIT Press. 3 (4): 791–793. doi:10.2307/202704. JSTOR 202704 via JSTOR.
  2. Riley, Jim. "Liberalism & Conservatism".
  3. Farney, James Harold (2012). Social Conservatives and Party Politics in Canada and the United States. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442612600.
  4. Smith, Robert B. (2014). Harry F. Dahms (ed.). Social Conservatism, Distractors, and Authoritarianism: Axiological versus instrumental rationality. Mediations of Social Life in the 21st Century. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 101. ISBN 9781784412227.
  5. Dean, John W. (11 July 2006). Conservatives Without Conscience. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 77. ISBN 9781101201374.
  6. Wald, Kenneth D.; Calhoun-Brown, Allison (2007). Religion and Politics in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 240. ISBN 9780742540415.
  7. Booten, Matthew (11 May 2020). "19 different types of conservatives". Politic-Ed. Social conservatism often opposes state-atheism, however not atheism itself. They believe that if we allow states to stop believing in God, that societal order will simply break down as a result.
  8. Veronique de Rugy and Tad DeHaven (31 July 2003). ""Conservative" Bush Spends More than "Liberal" Presidents Clinton, Carter". Retrieved 30 March 2011.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  9. "Michael Gerson - Compassionate to the End". Washington Post. 30 January 2008. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  10. Rowland, Howard S. (2010). Things to Think About. Xlibris Corporation. p. 171. ISBN 9781453571286.
  11. John Middlemist Herrick and Paul H. Stuart, eds. Encyclopedia of social welfare history in North America (2005) p. 143
  12. David M. Haskell, Through a lens darkly: how the news media perceive and portray evangelicals (2009) p 57
  13. Murray Dobbin, Preston Manning and the Reform Party (1991)
  14. "Same-sex marriages declared legal and valid by federal justice minister Rob Nicholson". National Post. 13 January 2012.
  15. M S Golwalkar (1966), Bunch of thoughts, Publishers: Sahitya Sindhu Prakashana
  16. Press Trust of India (2 August 2003). "Muslim leaders oppose uniform civil code". Express India. Archived from the original on 25 September 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  17. JCW Van Rooyen, Censorship in South Africa (Cape Town: Juta and Co., 1987),
  18. Bet and board in the new South Africa. (legalisation of gambling could lead to growth of casinos, lotteries)(Brief Article)The Economist (US) | 5 August 1995
  19. Apartheid mythology and symbolism. desegregated and re-invented in the service of nation building in the new South Africa: the covenant and the battle of Blood/Ncome River
  20. Dale T. McKinley. "South Africa's Social Conservatism: A Real and Present Danger".
  21. Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sun Belt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (W.W. Norton & Company; 2010) shows how migrants to Southern California from Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas provided evangelical support for social conservatism.
  22. Jörg Flecker (2007). Changing working life and the appeal of the extreme right. ISBN 978-0-7546-4915-1.
  23. Il programma del Popolo della Famiglia di Mario Adinolfi (intelligonews)
  24. Programma (Italia Cristiana)
  25. Parties and Elections in Europe. Retrieved on 24 August 2013.
  26. Piero Ignazi (2008). Partiti politici in Italia. Il Mulino, Bologna. p. 58.
  27. "La famiglia è una sola: quella naturale - Lega - Salvini Premier".
  28. La Lega:"No a matrimonio e adozioni gay"
  30. Giuseppe Vatinno (20 February 2017). "Gianni Alemanno parla del Movimento Nazionale per la Sovranità". Affaritaliani. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  31. "Nello Musumeci, "il missino" che ha riunito la destra - Il Tempo". 8 November 2017. Archived from the original on 8 November 2017.
  32. Inada, Miho; Dvorak, Phred. "Same-Sex Marriage in Japan: A Long Way Away?" Archived 16 June 2016 at the Wayback Machine. The Wall Street Journal. 20 September 2013. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  33. Lockhart, Charles (2010). Protecting the Elderly: How Culture Shapes Social Policy. Penn State Press. p. 84. ISBN 0-271-02289-2. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  34. Magara, Hideko; Sacchi, Stefano, eds. (2013). The Politics of Structural Reforms: Social and Industrial Policy Change in Italy and Japan. Edward Elgar Publishing. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-85793-292-1. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  35. Pekkanen, Robert J.; Scheiner, Ethan; Reed, Steven R., eds. (2016). Japan decides 2014: the Japanese general election. Springer. pp. 104, 106. doi:10.1057/9781137552006. ISBN 978-1-349-56437-8. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  36. Lucien Ellington, ed. (2009). Japan. ABC-CLIO. p. 168. ... Because of this political strength, the Liberal Democratic Party has in recent years included the moderate to socially conservative Komeito Party in coalition governments.
  37. "The politics of homophobia in South Korea". East Asia Forum. 4 July 2016.
  38. "the Democrats engulfed in 'LGBT aversion'". Seoul Shinmun (in Korean). 19 March 2020.
  39. "Gay Marriage Bill In Northern Ireland Blocked Again By Socially Conservative Democratic Unionist Party". 27 April 2015. Retrieved 9 January 2019.


  • Heywood, Andrew (2017). Political Ideologies: An Introduction. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-137-60604-4.

Further reading

  • Carlson, Allan, The Family in America: Searching for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age (2003) ISBN 0-7658-0536-7
  • Carlson, Allan, Family Questions: Reflections on the American Social Crisis (1991) ISBN 1-56000-555-6
  • Fleming, Thomas, The Politics of Human Nature, (1988) ISBN 1-56000-693-5
  • Gallagher, Maggie, The Abolition of Marriage: How We Destroy Lasting Love (1996) ISBN 0-89526-464-1
  • Himmelfarb, Gertrude, The De-moralization Of Society (1996) ISBN 0-679-76490-9
  • Hitchens, Peter, The Abolition of Britain. (1999) ISBN 0-7043-8117-6
  • Jones, E. Michael, Degenerate Moderns: Modernity As Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior. (1993) ISBN 0-89870-447-2
  • Kirk, Russell, The Conservative Mind, 7th Ed. (2001) ISBN 0-89526-171-5
  • Magnet, Myron, Modern Sex: Liberation and Its Discontents (2001) ISBN 1-56663-384-2
  • Medved, Diane and Dan Quayle, The American Family: Discovering the Values That Make Us Strong (1997) ISBN 0-06-092810-7
  • Sobran, Joseph, Single Issues: Essays on the Crucial Social Questions (1983) ISBN 1-199-24333-7.
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