Lengthy “hat tip”: A Thinking Reed posted a link to a series called “Philosophy Bites,” which features brief interviews with philosophers and philosophically informed writers, on subjects related to philosophy. I listened to the interview with Richard Reeves on John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. Reeves had some good stuff to say, and Google quickly led me to the New Yorker's review of Reeves's biography of Mill.
It's not fair of me to quote from the review only the two good things Adam Gopnik says about conservatism to the exclusion of his criticisms of it, but since I've provided you with the link and I can't see how my action causes Gopnik any harm, I am going to go ahead and do it.
“[Mill's] love of poetry and music and art also led him toward conservative thought. Aesthetes always bend to the right, in part because the best music and the best buildings were made in the past, and become an argument for its qualities. Someone entering Chartres becomes, for a moment, a medieval Catholic, and a person looking at Bellini or Titian has to admit that an unequal society can make unequalled pictures. To love old art is to honor old arrangements. But even new and progressive art is, as Mill knew, a product of imagination and inspiration, not of fair dealing and transparent processes; the central concerns of liberalism—fairness, equity, individual rights—really don’t enter into it. Mozart, whom Mill loved, would have benefitted as a person had he lived in a world that gave him the right to vote for his congressman, collect an old-age pension, and write letters to the editor on general subjects, and that gave his older sister her chance at composing, too. But not a note of his music would have been any better. Art is a product of eccentric genius, which we can protect, but which no theory of utility can explain.”
“There is a non-stupid conservative reproach to Mill. It is that his great success at changing minds has made a world in which there is not much of a role for people like him. Mill and Harriet, to a degree that they could hardly recognize, flourished within a whole set of social assumptions and shared beliefs. Respect for the mind, space for argument, the dispersal of that respect throughout the population, even the existence of a rentier class who could spend their time with ideas—all of these things were possible only in a society that was far more hierarchical and élitist than the society they dreamed of and helped to bring about.
“You can also fault Mill for not grasping something that a crazy reactionary like his friend Carlyle recognized: the depths of violence and rage and hatred beneath the thin shell of civilization. Mill is like a man who has spent his life on one of those moving walkways you find in airports. He takes the forward movement so much for granted that he never makes it his subject. ‘Most of the great positive evils of the world are in themselves removable, and will, if human affairs continue to improve, be in the end reduced within narrow limits,’ he wrote, a little too assuredly.”
Want the other side of the story? I'd suggest reading the whole review, which is interesting and well-written.
The conservatism that liberalism needs and can't do well without is not a conservatism of tax cuts and militarism. Liberalism projects its hopes on the future; it needs the kind of conservatism that will not overlook the costs and the limits of progress. Whether conservatives with questions about liberalism should be content with playing this role in a liberal society is another question.