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The Conservative Tradition

Discover just how pivotal a role Conservatism has played in defining our political tradition and shaping the modern West.
The Conservative Tradition is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 102.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great course by a wonderful teacher. Too bad how radical " conservative politics" has become recently.
Date published: 2024-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deep, rich, illuminating Splendid. First of all, Prof. Allitt is such an engaging lecturer that his course is just plain enjoyable. I gulped three lectures at a time. I have watched dozens of The Great Courses and I usually choose subjects that I know little about, filling gaps in my misspent college career. Here, by contrast, I had read a large portion of the sources and was acquainted with many of the personnages. I came to it already knowing at least 80% of the content. But Allitt sharpened and coordinated that pre-existing knowledge and revitalized it. When I identify myself as a conservative, my liberal friends often charge that I must be elitist, or backward-looking, or favoring stagnation. In fact, my version of conservatism (call it "constitutionalist libertarian") fosters the opposite of those things. But Allitt makes clear that there have been, and still are, strains of conservatism that are as liberals characterize. One of the themes of the course is the varying meaning of the term "conservative." I will insert an up-to-date comment. If you complete this course, you will recognize that Trump is not a conservative by any definition. In fact, it is difficult to find in him any kind of principle. So if I may claim to be an expert in the field, take my opinion: You could not do better.
Date published: 2024-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the VERY BEST!!! Update please! Having watched over 200 courses on Wondrium/Great Courses, I HIGHLY recommend this course as one of the top 10%, and perhaps top 5%, I have had the pleasure to watch. I not only learned a TON, but the time passed so quickly watching it because the delivery by the professor was simply excellent! As a side note, it was particularly interesting to hear how some of the issues and criticisms that exist now (2024) are quite similar to those that occurred in the 1980s/90s--e.g., regarding art/culture, 'political correctness', the teaching of history, Western values, the environment at universities. In sum, this course is an example of Wondrium at it very best! Recognizing that the prof is reluctant to comment on current events, as he explained in the last lecture, I would nevertheless love to see an UPDATE on this course that comments on/explains what has happened since 2009--e.g., Trump, Woke-ism, 'illiberal democracies', etc.
Date published: 2024-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Balanced Viewpoint We bought this series to better understand the views of right-wing America (we are liberals). Professor Allitt does a terrific job of presenting a balanced viewpoint of conservative versus liberal traditions. He states at the outset that he hopes his viewers will not know his personal place on this continuum and he succeeds in presenting opposite points of view in what we perceive to be a fair manner. In the context of discussing the conservative tradition he also refreshes our memory of history of these past several centuries. We would love to hear his historical views of the 21st century as well, although he makes the point that some time must pass before the historical context is clear. Although we are not historians, we thoroughly enjoyed this course!
Date published: 2023-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learning made enjoyable The Conservative Tradition, Dr. Patrick N Allitt is fabulous. 36 lessons that are so enjoyable to watch, Dr. Allitt gives you so much information in one lesson, but makes it easy for one to understand and retain all that you have just watched. I look forward to watching and reading the book that comes with each great course dvd and audio lecture.
Date published: 2022-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great teacher at work! The lecturer presents a complete picture of the history of the Conservative political movement from its origins in eighteen century Great Britain until the twenty-first century. Prof. Allitt’s range of knowledge about the subject, as well as his interesting anecdotes on various political events and political leaders, make this course a good choice for anyone interested in the subject. Liberals as well as conservatives interested in history and politics will enjoy this course.
Date published: 2021-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from HIghly Relevant to Our Times I had hoped these lectures would be relevant to the moral panic of our time; I was stunned at just how relevant they were! Though the lectures end with the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the story in the lectures of the ‘60s and ‘70s in the US have clear implications for our current issues. And the conservative writers of the ‘80s and ‘90s were spot on in their critique of how American culture would evolve. The lectures also move back and forth across the pond between British and American traditions in a way that highlights the parallels and the debt America owes to Edmund Burke and other British figures I knew little about. Overall, the series is an illuminating look at one of the important traditions of modern political thought.
Date published: 2021-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent review of important historical trends When I purchased the course, I had concerns that it may be a paean to a particular political philosophy. I was much relieved to find that this was a non-partisan historical review of conservatism, willing to underscore its contradictions, internal divisions, and evolution over time: ideas and individuals once considered radicals (e.g. Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson) were subsequently introduced into the conservative pantheon. And though I lived through much of the history described, I was not fully aware of the conservative elements in action during those times. Although I would like to hear Prof Allitt's interpretations of the events of the last five years, it is noteworthy and appropriate that this historian deliberately relegates interpretation of current events to journalists and insists that the historians' role is to interpret the longer term.
Date published: 2021-10-29
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Preserving the traditions and values of the past and applying them to the future—this is the core of the Conservative attitude. While the development of Conservatism has followed different arcs in the United States and Great Britain, this rich and fascinating political tradition has decisively impacted the evolution of both nations and their grand political institutions.


Patrick N. Allitt

We live in a world that has created many new incentives for us to become lifelong learners. Luckily, lifelong learning is a pleasure.


Emory University

Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. He received his PhD in American History from the University of California, Berkeley, and completed postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard Divinity School and Princeton University. He is a widely published author whose books include A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism; The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities throughout American History; and Religion in America since 1945: A History.

By This Professor

The Industrial Revolution
The Great Tours: England, Scotland, and Wales
The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy
The Art of Teaching: Best Practices from a Master Educator
How Railways Transformed the World
America after the Cold War: The First 30 Years
What Is Conservatism?

01: What Is Conservatism?

The opening lecture explains some definitions of Conservatism and previews Professor Allitt's approach to exploring its rich and varied lineage in both Britain and America and its fund of ideas and principles. Each is explored within the context of contemporaneous historical events and debate.

32 min
The Glorious Revolution and Its Heritage

02: The Glorious Revolution and Its Heritage

In gaining a grasp of Tory ideas about politics during the early years of Parliament's supremacy, you learn much about the roots of English Conservatism, including Lord Bolingbroke's comments about what we now call the "loyal opposition." His views would influence generations of subsequent English and American politicians.

31 min
Burke, Tradition, and the French Revolution

03: Burke, Tradition, and the French Revolution

Learn about the ideas of Edmund Burke, the Whig politician whose "Reflections on the Revolution in France" is regarded by many Conservatives as the founding text of their political creed. His book, written after the conflict's early stages, counseled respect for tradition and avoidance of radical change.

29 min
Pitt and the Wars of the French Revolution

04: Pitt and the Wars of the French Revolution

Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger was to Conservatism's politics what Burke was to its theory. Learn why he is probably the one man to whom it is easiest to trace the growth of Britain's Conservative Party.

31 min
The American Revolution

05: The American Revolution

The underpinnings of America's revolution were really as "un-revolutionary" as could be. See how many of its leaders actually looked back to a long British tradition of liberty under limited government and the heritage of the Glorious Revolution, and how large numbers of the populace remained loyal to the crown.

31 min
The Federalists

06: The Federalists

Strongly influenced by the Western political tradition, America's Constitution can be seen as a very conservative kind of revolutionary document. Learn about the Federalists' role in creating and passing it and their dismay over the eventual changes in national direction brought by Thomas Jefferson and his party.

30 min
Conservatives in the American South

07: Conservatives in the American South

Southern plantation owners wanted to be left to their own devices, without the federal government imposing its power on their states. Explore how these desires combined with unapologetic racist justifications for slavery to shape the face of southern Conservatism.

29 min
Northern Antebellum Conservatism

08: Northern Antebellum Conservatism

See how concerns over President Andrew Jackson becoming a tyrant—with democracy turning into mere demagoguery—became the catalyst for the formation of a new political party. The Whigs drew their nucleus from remnants of the Federalist Party in New England and prosperous businessmen throughout the Union.

30 min
Opposing the Great Reform Act

09: Opposing the Great Reform Act

A mood of romantic conservatism in early 19th-century England pitted Conservatives against reform movements like Catholic emancipation and the Great Reform Act of 1832. See that Conservatives vigorously resisted passage of such bills, which began the slow process of making Britain a parliamentary democracy.

30 min
Robert Peel and the Conservative Revival

10: Robert Peel and the Conservative Revival

Follow the career of Robert Peel, who built the modern Conservative Party. Although he presided over a great Conservative revival, his rivalries with Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone created a party rift.

30 min
Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, Mill

11: Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, Mill

Take a ride on the swinging pendulum of political definitions as you meet the pioneers of free-market capitalism. The same principles now considered bulwarks of modern Conservatism then marked them as radicals, with some of their admirers even now referring to them as "classical Liberals."

30 min
Conservatism and the American Civil War

12: Conservatism and the American Civil War

Can the Civil War be considered the clash of two Conservative philosophies? Judge for yourself as you see conservative southern states secede from the Union while northern Conservatives refused to acknowledge their secession as legitimate.

29 min
Industrialists, Mugwumps, Traditionalists

13: Industrialists, Mugwumps, Traditionalists

With American industrialization accelerating after the Civil War, at least three different brands of Conservatism surfaced, including the "Gospel of Wealth" argued by Andrew Carnegie; the older Republican values of the "Mugwumps"; and the longing for an even more-distant past evident in the works of Henry Adams.

31 min
Disraeli and Tory Imperialism

14: Disraeli and Tory Imperialism

Meet Benjamin Disraeli, the outsider who converted from Judaism to Anglicanism and enjoyed a meteoric ascent through the ranks of the Conservative Party. Creating much of the structure of the modern Conservative Party, Disraeli remained an inspirational figure to the party for more than a century.

32 min
The Rise of Labour and the House of Lords

15: The Rise of Labour and the House of Lords

Although the American trade union movement never created a political party of its own, you see how Britain's union movement did just that, with the founding of the Labour Party in 1900 carrying powerful implications for both the Liberal and Conservative parties.

30 min
The Idea of Anglo-Saxon Supremacy

16: The Idea of Anglo-Saxon Supremacy

Racism was intellectually respectable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with Anglo-Saxons seen as destined to rule the rest of the world. Explore how this idea influenced Conservative thought in Britain and America.

31 min
No Vote for Women

17: No Vote for Women

While today's belief is that men and women are similar in all essentials except the most physical, articulate Britons and Americans in the early 20th century were more struck by the differences. Explore how this different perspective made itself felt in the debate over suffrage for women.

30 min
American Conservatives after World War I

18: American Conservatives after World War I

Under a trio of Conservative Republican presidents, the 1920s was a period of prosperity throughout the United States. Examine how isolated Conservatives—including groups known as the New Humanists and the Southern Agrarians, along with journalist H. L. Mencken—deplored this turn to materialism.

30 min
Opposing the New Deal

19: Opposing the New Deal

The onset of the Great Depression would transform American Conservatism. Explore how Conservatives reacted to both the New Deal and to arguments over whether America should stand behind Britain in defending European civilization in the Second World War, or remain aloof from a conflict in which the nation had no vital interest.

30 min
The Tory Party from Bonar Law to Churchill

20: The Tory Party from Bonar Law to Churchill

Britain entered the interwar years sobered and psychologically wounded by the First World War. Learn how a string of Conservative leaders, though holding power much of this time, offered mediocre leadership until the crisis of the oncoming war forced the party to turn to Winston Churchill.

29 min
The Reaction to Labour and Nationalization

21: The Reaction to Labour and Nationalization

Gain insight into the reasons why Churchill, in spite of victory, was repudiated in 1945 by an electorate to whom he represented the wrong kind of Conservatism: backward-looking, elitist, and dedicated to class distinctions and empire. Although he would eventually lead the Conservatives back to power, he was unable to reverse the massive political and economic changes of the postwar years.

30 min
American Anticommunism and McCarthyism

22: American Anticommunism and McCarthyism

American Conservatives, already afraid of Socialism, were horrified by the militant Communism of Lenin's Bolsheviks. See how anticommunism gradually became one of the defining features of postwar American Conservatism.

30 min
American Traditionalists

23: American Traditionalists

While McCarthyism was making headlines in the early 1950s, a quieter, self-identified Conservative movement was also taking shape and becoming intellectually influential. This lecture explores some of the thinkers prominent in this movement, including Ross Hoffman, Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, Walter Lippmann, and Peter Viereck.

30 min

24: Libertarianism

See a third strand of the new American Conservatism emerge in the 1950s, as Libertarianism joined anti-Communism and traditionalism. Its adherents had virtually unlimited faith in the powers of the free market, deplored state intervention in the economy, and regarded personal liberty as the highest possible good.

31 min
National Review and Barry Goldwater

25: National Review and Barry Goldwater

Enjoy a front-row seat as Conservatism in America achieves a level of unity with the publication of William F. Buckley Jr.'s "National Review" in 1955. Anti-Communist, anti-big government, and sympathetic to traditional values—the magazine soon becomes the central journal of the Conservative movement.

30 min
Upheavals of the 1960s

26: Upheavals of the 1960s

Why did the Conservative movement "gain" adherents during the 1960s, despite the defeat of Conservative Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater? You'll grasp the answer in the galvanizing influence of the Vietnam War, the spread of affirmative action, and an increasingly activist—and often violently demonstrative—youth culture on college campuses.

30 min
The Neoconservatives

27: The Neoconservatives

Among the sharpest critics of the new Conservatives in the 1950s were a group of Liberal social scientists, including Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Samuel Huntington, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. See how the unfolding social turbulence of the 1960s prompted them to begin thinking in different directions.

32 min
The Neoconservatives and Foreign Policy

28: The Neoconservatives and Foreign Policy

In the 1970s Saigon fell, the Soviet Union built a world-spanning navy, and revolutions broke out in Iran and Nicaragua. See that the Neoconservatives—who had come to share the Conservatives' views on domestic issues—began to join them on foreign policy, as well.

31 min
Christian Conservatives and the New Right

29: Christian Conservatives and the New Right

For five decades, evangelical Protestants in America had avoided direct involvement in politics. You grasp how societal changes in the 1960s and 1970s—including feminism, the sexual revolution, gay rights, and the legalization of abortion—prompted some evangelical leaders to rethink their position.

31 min
Margaret Thatcher's Counterrevolution

30: Margaret Thatcher's Counterrevolution

Margaret Thatcher, a shopkeeper's daughter from Grantham, was an unlikely figure to rise to the leadership of the Conservative Party. Learn how she nevertheless became the decisive personality of her era and left an impression on the country as vivid as that left 40 years before by Winston Churchill.

30 min
Monarchs and Prime Ministers

31: Monarchs and Prime Ministers

Examine how John Major, the successor to Margaret Thatcher, consolidated her counterrevolution and gave further evidence that the Conservative Party was no longer the preserve of aristocrats. Meanwhile, see how the outpouring of grief at the death of Princess Diana in 1997 demonstrated the continuing emotional appeal of royalty and the monarchy's skill over three centuries of adapting to changing times.

32 min
Reagan Triumphant

32: Reagan Triumphant

You look at the rise of Ronald Reagan, who was to American Conservatism what Thatcher was to British Conservatism. Enjoying great personal popularity, he was able to make Conservatism seem normal, friendly, relaxed, and all-American, qualities it had certainly not exhibited in the 1950s and 1960s.

32 min
The End of the Cold War

33: The End of the Cold War

When most of the Communist world collapsed at the end of the 1980s, American Conservatives were taken by surprise. Explore America's dilemma in navigating this strange new world. Should it withdraw into isolationism, or exert its power to influence all future global crises?

30 min
Paleoconservatives and Theoconservatives

34: Paleoconservatives and Theoconservatives

Look at the arguments of those American Conservatives who were opposed to a foreign policy based on trying to democratize the world. Among them were the Paleoconservatives, which included southern descendents of the Agrarians; Libertarians; and the Theoconservatives, a group of ecumenical religious writers organized by Richard John Neuhaus.

30 min
Culture Wars

35: Culture Wars

Focus on several writers, including Allan Bloom, E. D. Hirsch, Lynne Cheney, and Roger Kimball, who lamented what they considered a decline in civilization and civility. They argued that Conservatives had won the battle for national politics, but not the one for the souls of young Americans.

29 min
Unresolved Paradoxes

36: Unresolved Paradoxes

This final lecture summarizes the issues discussed in the course. See why, no matter how Anglo-American Conservatives react to new challenges, they have good reason, whatever their short-term anxieties, to approach the future in a mood of quiet confidence.

32 min