I Am an Old Whig
"The more I learn about the evolution of ideas, the more I have become aware that I am simply an unrepentant Old Whig . . ." - F. A. Hayek
Conservatism is, by definition, the "middle ground" between liberty and collectivism. Conservatives eschew change and fight, not for a return to a smaller government, but for the current state of existence, unhappily giving in to what they consider a slower slide toward bigger government. But conservatives don't want a smaller government either. Conservatives, again by definition, simply do not like change. In many ways, that is to be commended, or would be were we now defending a state of liberty.
If it's not already obvious, I just finished reading "Why I Am Not a Conservative" by Friedrich Hayek, a shock to this life-long Republican who cut her teeth on Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative (link opens pdf file). These two like-minded guys obviously got their signals crossed, although clearly that was a matter of usage and vernacular. Hayek was much more comfortable calling himself a "liberal" in Europe, acknowledging the label had been hijacked by the collectivists. In America, "conservative" has typically applied to the anti-collectivists (no longer, as collectivism is the status quo). Just as a rose by any other name, "It is not who governs but what government is entitled to do that seems to me the essential problem" acknowledges Hayek.
The essay, which you may read here, is less about the labels than it is about how conservatism allows – if not condones – collectivism. If you disagree, please comment, but only after reading Hayek's essay.