Progress has meant a movement toward the fulfillment of a particular form of society where individuals are unhindered by social mores, so that everyone picks their way of life and being as freely as they can without government and social interference, and everybody else tolerates completely the decisions made by everyone else, nobody feeling grudges at the choices of others. In few words, everybody’s particular pursuit of happiness has no negative or positive influence in the pursuit of happiness of anyone else living in the same place. In few words, progress is a moral agenda. The practical consequences of this moral agenda will be discussed in a further entry. It only suffices to say that it depends on the destruction of any notion of a common good that depends on a shared system of values and traditions.
There is another understanding of progress which I consider misleading: progress as economic development. We owe this notion to the British, who at the opening of the modern revolutionary times triggered the massive economic development of the industrial revolution. Some people commit the tempting fallacy of arguing that the more economic development, society progresses toward the moral ideal described in the previous paragraph. I will not develop my ideas concerning this notion. It suffices to say that I disagree with it. Development and progress are two different things, and if there is a casual relationship between them we don’t know.
Conservatism aims in the opposite direction; first it was expressed as reactionary ideology and behavior: avoiding the moral and social changes posed by progress. Later it was expressed as nostalgia: recovering the traditions that a decaying civilization was destroying. Today is almost depressing pessimism: the memory of a social identity almost gone. This is also a moral stance, not an economic one. The mingling of the word conservatism with economic neoliberalism is nothing but confusion, and it has coinage strange expressions as “fiscal conservatism” (simply neoliberal would fit better, especially because it literally means what it says).
Being a moral stance, conservatism is antagonistic with liberal progressivism. One aims at an imaginary society, assuming that that society is possible, but with little empirical reference whatsoever. Conservatism aims at a real society: ours. It refers to a historically empirical experience.
The real problem lies in our concepts of justice and fairness. The truth of the progressive discourse lies in the injustices and unfairness of the old society, and it is in this critique that their entire agenda bases itself. Conservatives usually lack an effective response to this criticism, because after all the old society was filled with many if those so-called injustices. This is the main reason why conservatives are usually labeled as members of what used to be the group of people privileged by the old status quo, and many times it is an accurate remark.