Since Tom started it ;) I will again post my preferred definition of conservatism, which much better encompasses what “conservative” means right now, as well what it has meant over the ages:
Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:
There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.
There is nothing more or else to it, and there never has been, in any place or time.
For millenia, conservatism had no name, because no other model of polity had ever been proposed. “The king can do no wrong.” In practice, this immunity was always extended to the king’s friends, however fungible a group they might have been. …
As the core proposition of conservatism is indefensible if stated baldly, it has always been surrounded by an elaborate backwash of pseudophilosophy, amounting over time to millions of pages. All such is axiomatically dishonest and undeserving of serious scrutiny. Today, the accelerating de-education of humanity has reached a point where the market for pseudophilosophy is vanishing; it is, as The Kids Say These Days, tl;dr . All that is left is the core proposition itself — backed up, no longer by misdirection and sophistry, but by violence.
Source. Incidentally, ever since I came across this (via Brad De Long’s blog), I always assumed it was a famous quote from somewhere. But apparently it’s not. It’s just a random blog comment from 2018.
As to “What is conservatism conserving?” the answer is simply: “power, to the in group.”