How do people deal with dramatic change: exile, revolution, hyperinflation, or rapid socioeconomic development? Why do some people respond to transformation processes on an individual, social, or political level, which may trigger deep-seated fears, by attempting to hold on to what is familiar?
Peter Waldmann examines this »conservative impulse« as a conscious or unconscious unwillingness to abandon traditional convictions and ways of thinking. Many theories of development in society, in particular modernization theories, view conservative attitudes as an impediment to progress. And while recourse to what is familiar may indeed lead to stagnation or regression, it can also be a precondition for dealing with radical transformation. The conservative impulse is highly ambivalent.
Peter Waldmann focuses first on loss as experienced by individuals as a result of death, exile, or economic deprivation. He identifies three factors that largely determine the likelihood of a conservative response: whether or not sudden change is welcomed, whether it is reversible or not, and whether there is sufficient time to adjust.
Radical transformations in society and the political sphere are then examined in the context of three contrasting cases: the French Revolution of 1789 and its impacts, Spain's path to democracy after Franco's death, and the conservative Iranian revolution of 1979. Further dimensions are considered by probing the trajectories of rapid, »catch-up« development in three countries: South Korea after 1960, Argentina in two different phases, and the Basque region in Spain from 1880 on.
Waldmann's analysis underlines how attempts to realize accelerated change—whether technical, economic, social, or political—while simultaneously preserving traditional patterns of identity can yield divergent developments. In a final section, he relates his findings on individual, social, and political transformation processes and conservative attitudes to discussions about alternative developmental paths in various regions of the global south. Moreover, he discusses the consequences of his exploratory study for social science theories on social and political change.