Conservatism 101 – Week 1

Welcome to Conservatism 101! In this first session, American University professor Christopher Malagisi explains the conservative movement’s origins and key principles, providing an answer to the question: What are conservatives trying to conserve?

Start the video below to begin your first week’s lecture.




  • Conservatives are trying to conserve America’s founding principles.
  • America is exceptional not because it fought a war of independence, but because it established a new political legitimacy.
  • This new political legitimacy is based primarily on three principles stipulated in the U.S. Declaration of Independence:
        1. All men are created equal.
        2. If all men are created equal, then no one man can “divinely” rule over another. Therefore, true political legitimacy is derived from the consent of the governed.
        3. Our rights do not come from government but instead come from the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.”




  • The greatest threat to conservatism and the American tradition is the progressive movement, which seeks to recalibrate the focus of government by expanding its role in society, while de-emphasizing the Founder’s intent of preserving individual liberty.
  • The progressive philosophy is based on three fundamental principles – relativism, positivism, and historicism.
  • Today, conservatives believe in certain basic principles, including: individual liberty, limited government, free markets, a constitutional order, strong national defense, and preserving the civil society.
  • Quoting Mark Levin from his book Liberty & Tyranny, “Conservatism is the antidote to tyranny, precisely because its principles are the founding principles.”




  • “Fusion” conservatism combines the three major branches that primarily make up the conservative movement – libertarians, traditionalists, and anti-communists.
  • Libertarians emphasize a limited government that secures an individual’s liberty and free markets. They believe that political freedom and economic freedom are inextricably linked.
  • Traditionalists emphasize the preservation of the civil society (families, schools, churches, local communities and private associations) and believe in a transcendent moral order that has been passed down through the great traditions of Western Civilization, derived from ancient Jerusalem, Athens, Rome and London.
  • Anti-communists believe the greatest foreign threat after WWII was the rise of international communism personified by Stalin’s Soviet Russia, Mao’s Red China, and a rising collectivist sentiment in the U.S.


Session 1: Prompting Question(s)

So where are you in this discussion?  Are you a conservative?  Why or why not?  How does this study of ideas affect your daily life?


Further Suggested Reading:

Mark R. Levin, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. New York: Threshold Editions, 2009.

George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2006.