When discussing politics or religion, the term “conservative” comes up often, but what does it mean? Put simply, conservativism is a way of thinking that seeks to maintain the status quo rather than attempting solutions that may or may not improve a situation. Conservativism is commonly considered to be the opposite of liberalism, which is more open to experimentation and the implementation of new ideas. To quote the American writer Ambrose Bierce, conservatives are "enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others." The specific form conservativism takes frequently varies from one country to the next, but in general, conservatives have traditional, often faith-based values and are resistant to changes they feel could erode those values.
A brief profile of modern conservativism
People from conservative countries or more conservative U.S. states tend to desire a smaller government with reduced regulation. They usually disprove of rapid or radical changes and hold a strong belief that traditional morality—such as that articulated in the Bible (or, in Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, the Quran)—should be preserved. As a rule, conservatives reject ideas they believe impede business, such as environmental restrictions or empowered unions, and are particularly resistant to legislation they view as intruding upon personal freedoms, such as gun control. That said, conservatives often do support regulations that address issues they regard as moral concerns, such as LGBTQ+ marriage, abortion, recreational drug use, or (in some cases) the roles and rights of women and/or minorities in society. Conservatives tend to favor lower taxes and oppose social programs, which they believe can result in excessive tax burdens and reward the undeserving.
Conservative countries around the world
Because conservativism is an overarching values system, it impacts a vast range of government operations. However, it may not impact each aspect of government equally. For example, it is possible for a country to be conservative in regard to social issues but liberal with regard to its economy. What's more, conservatism looks different in some countries than in others. Conservativism in the United States, for instance, appears quite different from conservativism in Afghanistan, where women are oppressed and Christians are persecuted, or Eswatini, where the king has more than a dozen wives. Finally, the most conservative countries often restrict the release of information, which can make comparisons and analysis more challenging. Given these factors, there is no single definitive metric that can be used to determine whether a country's government is conservative or not. However, by combining multiple metrics, it is possible to get a much clearer measure of where a country lies on the conservative to liberal scale.
In 2017, Business Insider released a list of the 25 most conservative countries in the world, based upon data compiled by MoveHub and originally pulled from studies including the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report, the Social Progress Index, the Environmental Performance Index, and the Economist's Democracy Index. These studies evaluate countries in categories including religious tolerance, freedom of the press, and gender parity, all of which tend to be suppressed in highly conservative countries. The most liberal countries in the world proved to be Iceland, Finland, and Sweden. For the most conservative, see the list below and the table further down this page.