In Search of Conservatism

16 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2019

Date Written: 2019


This essay was written as a comment on a paper by Professor Robert Nagel, entitled “Conservatism and Constitutionalism in the United States”: both the paper and the comment were delivered at a conference at the University of Lisbon in June 2018. After considering and criticizing various candidates for a conservative constitutional jurisprudence, Nagel concludes by suggesting that the essence of judicial conservatism lies in a traditionalism that acknowledges that reason can only operate from within experience rather than as a more detached examination of experience. This comment questions Nagel’s conclusion, suggests that conservatism would need to have a more ethical and ontological dimension, and offers a distinction between “believing traditionalists” and “skeptical traditionalists” who may converge in their practical values and prescriptions even though they differ fundamentally on a more philosophical level.

Keywords: conservatism, constitutional jurisprudence

JEL Classification: A10

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, In Search of Conservatism (2019). San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 19-378 (2019). Available at SSRN: or

Steven Douglas Smith (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-7969 (Phone)
619-260-2492 (Fax)

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