Conservatism is sometimes mischaracterized as mere resistance to change or modernity. For example, the Encyclopædia Britannica definition states
"Conservatism: Political philosophy that emphasizes conserving as much as possible of the present economic, social, and political order."It must be added that this approach is stated in contrast to radical ones, in which the very principles or institutions conservatives assume to underlie a society are attacked. In practical political terms, conservatives may actually advocate substantial changes in policy or outlook to preserve such institutions or principles, although the specific positions held by the conservative party will vary from time to time and place to place.
Just as conservative traditionalism contrasts with radicalism in the arena of social or political change, conservative realism contrasts with liberal rationalism. Conservatives holds that civilizations are complex and organic rather than reductive and mechanical, and that the judgment of a person or a school during a single lifetime is fallible and unreliable. Therefore, the instigation of new policy is fraught with the danger first, of unintended consequences that undermine society, and second, of fallacy. Conservatism is frequently at odds with ideology, technocracy, and theories which favor imposed change.
Conservatives have existed as long as there has been tradition to conserve, but as a philosophy, conservatism is most commonly traced to the Irish-born Edmund Burke. His seminal work Reflections on the Revolution in France contrasted the radical and bloody French Revolution-- which sought to completely rebuild society from its foundations-- with the American Revolution, which maintained the preexisting social and economic systems, and most political systems, even amidst the expulsion of the sovereign power.