A general preference for the existing order of society and an opposition to all efforts to bring about rapid or fundamental change in that order. Conservative ideologies characteristically strive to show that existing economic and political inequalities are well justified and that the existing order is about as close as is practically attainable to an ideal order. Conservative ideologies most often base their claims on the teachings of religion and traditional morality and tend to downplay the reliability of purely rational or deductive social theories propounded by secular philosophers, economists, and other social thinkers. The specific content of "conservatism" is highly variable across societies and over time, since the arguments necessary to defend the status quo depend upon what the status quo is in any particular country. Because American political and economic institutions were very heavily influenced by 18th and 19th century liberal thought and because America had essentially no experience of the kind of feudal and aristocratic institutions that persisted for so long in Europe, contemporary American conservatism's content includes a much stronger commitment to free markets, individual rights, and political democracy and much less attachment to hereditary aristocracy and state-support for a particular religion than is characteristic of contemporary European conservatism. In Maddox and Lilie's classification of American political ideologies, a political point of view characterized by relatively high support for activist government intervention to enforce traditional morality or social values coupled with relatively high opposition to activist government when it comes to intervening in economic or business affairs.
[See also: ideology, liberalism, libertarianism, populism]