La Liberté guidant le peuple - Painting by Eugene Delacroix
La Liberté guidant le peuple – Painting by Eugene Delacroix

Politics is a field of carefully groomed yet nastily imprecise definitions – none the least because it is the habit of its practitioners to steer clear of commitments, pronouncements or determinations which may face the need of reinterpretation tomorrow or the very next minute.

“Conservative” or “Conservatism” is one of the most popular catch phrases in the political vernacular – yet we might have a closer look at its etymology, inherent relativism and, indeed, rotative meaning as opposed to the more superficial use in common parlance.

It derives, naturally, from Latin “conservare”. “Servare” is the root word for “servus”, the servant, and basically means “to use” in the transitive way – something to be used, as in the English word “serviceable”. The prefix “con” has the basic meaning of “together” (“together with”, more precisely) and we could essentially translate it as “something that serves (well) with”, an idea which quickly developed into the notion of something that serves well hence it should be retained.

This is the more superficial way it is used generally as to denote – in the political domain – an existing structure which should be retained because of its merits.

This is the classic argument of the possessor – not the aspirer – and here we see that there is indeed a basically rotative connotation.

For the revolutionary of every kind – as soon as he, she or they have accomplished the goal, must turn to the preservation of the new achievement and immediately become a “conservative” him-, her- or theirselves.

Thus revolutionaries in due time always become conservatives – we may remember that the industrial conservatism of our time once was a revolution against the feudal system – liege-lords and manors.

Herein also lies the reason for the old adage that all revolutions eat their own children – don’t they?

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)