On regular issues of policy reform—presupposing a stable integrated polity— Hume, Smith, and Burke were liberal in the original political meaning of “liberal.” Thus, on policy reform, although they accorded the status quo a certain presumption (as any reasonable person must), the more distinctive feature is that they maintained (even propounded, most plainly in Smith’s case) a presumption of liberty in matters of policy reform. But we need another conceptualization that treats their attitudes about establishing, reforming, and securing the wider structure of political institutions, political procedure, and political culture and character—matters of polity reformation. On polity reformation, they showed sensibilities for which “conservative” is apt (though such conservatism was not otherwise purely neutral). Hume, Smith, and Burke were basically in agreement in the matters treated here. They are polity conservatives.

In his latest article, NOUS member Dan B. Klein develops the two conceptualizations—policy reform and polity reformation—, an understanding of “liberal” applicable to policy reform, and an understanding of “conservative” (namely, a heavy presumption of the status quo) that may be applied to policy reform and to polity reformation. If we code the three thinkers as PLPC (policy liberals and polity conservatives), we may put the matter this way: It would be meaningful but wrong to code them instead PCPC (policy conservatives and polity conservatives). Thus, he calls their outlook conservative liberalism.

The full paper is available here.