Burnham’s definitions of Conservatives and Liberals with respect to their disposition towards governing, leaving aside specific issues and social questions (although these are usually manifestations of these principles). He calls them “syndromes” since more often than not they come in packages and a person who holds to one is likely to hold to the others.


  1. Belief that government involves a non-rational factor; distrust of abstract political ideology.
  2. Belief that human nature is limited and corrupt; anti-utopianism.
  3. Respect for tradition
  4. Belief in the diffusion of sovereignty and power.
  5. For representative, mediated government; against plebiscitary democracy.
  6. For States’ Rights
  7. For the autonomy of the various branches of the central government.
  8. Greater solicitude for the limits than for the powers of government.
  9. Belief that the American constitutional tradition embodies principles that are intelligible, and of permanent value.
  10. For decentralization and localization.
  11. Presumption in favor of private economic enterprise.
  12. Primary philosophic concern with individuals in their private capacity, rather than with nation or other collectivity.
  13. Presumption in favor of Congress as against executive.


  1. Confidence in the ability of rational science and democratic ideology to comprehend and solve all problems of government.
  2. Belief in the unlimited potentiality of human nature
  3. No presumption in favor of traditional usage.
  4. Willingness to waive principle of diffusion of power if thereby progressive forces or goals are furthered.
  5. Tendency towards plebiscitary democracy.
  6. Minor concern with or even disapproval of States’ rights.
  7. Belief that the autonomy of the branches of the central government hinders solution of major contemporary problems.
  8. More solicitude for the power of government to accomplish progressive goals than for limits on government.
  9. Interpretation of the American constitutional tradition as instrumental, it’s meaning wholly dependent on time and circumstance.
  10. Belief that decentralization and localization often interfere with solution of modern problems.
  11. Critical attitude toward private economic enterprise, and positive belief in government economic control plus some measure of government ownership.
  12. Belief that expansion of governmental activity aids the attainment of the good life.
  13. Presumption in favor of the executive as against Congress.

In 2024, it’s questionable whether either party’s nominee for President genuinely holds to conservative syndromes, and instead appears that both take a fundamentally liberal stance towards the Federal government (regardless of official party platform)


  1. [[ Burnham, Congress and the American Tradition ]], p. 143-144