Civic conservatism

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Civic conservatism is a form of modern conservatism developed by the Conservative intellectual David Willetts. First introduced in his 1995 pamphlet, "Civic Conservatism", is the idea of focussing on the institutions between the state and individuals as a policy concern (rather than merely thinking of individuals and the state as the only agencies). The pamphlet wished to "place the free market in the context of institutions and values which make up civil society". The examples of these institutions were the "network of voluntary organisations", from hospitals to guilds, which had been "weakened if not destroyed by the advance of the State". [D. Willetts, Civic Conservatism (1994), pp 15, 18]

Fourteen years after the publication of "Civic Conservatism" Willetts gave the inaugural Oakeshott Memorial Lecture to the London School of Economics in which he made an attempt to explain how theory can be used to help think about how to improve social capital. Willetts attempted to use the works of Ken Binmore to explain how such a civic-centred policy could emerge, and in what conditions it would thrive.

"Civic conservatism, like free market economics, proceeds from deep-seated individual self-interest towards a stable cooperation. It sets the Tories the task not of changing humanity but of designing institutions and arrangements that encourage our natural reciprocal altruism."[1]

The Oakeshott lecture [2] was described by Daniel Finkelstein, Comment Editor at The Times as "an audacious attempt by the Conservative Party's leading intellectual to relate a new Tory narrative" [3].


Civic Conservatism is now cited as one of the crucial principles behind the increasing support in the Conservative Party's localist agenda and its emphasis on voluntary organisations. During an interview with The Spectator, he was referred to as 'the real father of Cameronism'.[4]


  • Green, E.H.H (2004). Ideologies of Conservatism: Conservative Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century. ISBN 0-19-927033-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>