Conservatism is a term commonly used in politics to denote a preference for the old and tried in the civil social order rather than the new and untried; by extension it has come to mean a preference for the old and tried in all categories of social and individual existence without particular reference to politics. It differs from traditionalism in so far as it does not depend on an ethnic heritage. It constitutes a barrier to social progress and modernization. In politics it may cause a barrier to legal reform or lead to half-hearted measures as a result of caution. Conservatism may lead to fascism under extreme circumstances. In religion, conservatism is associated with objections to ecumenicalism and to tolerance for other ideologies. Religious bodies, like governmental legislatures, are fragmented into conservative and other parties; to the right, arch-conservatives and to their right, fundamentalists (in the political, comparable position are the fascists); to the left are the neo-conservatives and to their left are the centrists, middle-of-the roaders, the 'blessed peace-makers'.
Conservatism is inherent in almost all societies. It is alleged that as people get older they get more conservative. There is the example of 74 year-old conservative President Ronald Reagan who admitted he was 'a bleeding-heart liberal' when younger. However, there is also the example of Pope John XXIII who, on reaching the papacy at 77, inaugurated changes in Roman Catholicism that shook the arch-conservative Roman Curia and changed the world for millions of people.
Perhaps the conservative instinct is to preserve the essence of all the good things. Since few can agree on what this essence is, the conservative can more readily focus, when he wishes to take action, on the forms of the things and the structures. The conservative, wishing to have better room illumination, improves the gas lamp; the progressive invents electricity.