Well, anyways, in the comments of this post C2H50H remarked
Forgive me, Oh Conservatives, but from where I sit, what it looks like is a loose affiliation between the authoritarians, who will follow any sufficiently "manly" leader, plus several single-issue constituencies, such as those who are uncomfortable with the freedoms conferred on humanity by the march of modern medicine, those who suffer from excessive fear that their guns will be taken away, and so on, plus a bunch of people whose only impetus to be conservative appears to be that they could never be nominated by any remotely liberal party.I think this is pretty spot on as far as the conservative movement is concerned, and being too lazy myself to find my previous comments on the subject, I'm happy to see that Digby has today written a post that does the work for me. Check it out to see why I made the Edmund Burke reference.
But to further answer C2H50H's question about the nature of modern conservatism, I'll defer to F.A. Hayek's seminal essay Why I Am Not a Conservative.
The position which can be rightly described as conservative at any time depends, therefore, on the direction of existing tendencies. Since the development during the last decades has been generally in a socialist direction, it may seem that both conservatives and liberals have been mainly intent on retarding that movement. But the main point about liberalism is that it wants to go elsewhere, not to stand still. Though today the contrary impression may sometimes be caused by the fact that there was a time when liberalism was more widely accepted and some of its objectives closer to being achieved, it has never been a backward-looking doctrine. There has never been a time when liberal ideals were fully realized and when liberalism did not look forward to further improvement of institutions. Liberalism is not averse to evolution and change; and where spontaneous change has been smothered by government control, it wants a great deal of change of policy. So far as much of current governmental action is concerned, there is in the present world very little reason for the liberal to wish to preserve things as they are. It would seem to the liberal, indeed, that what is most urgently needed in most parts of the world is a thorough sweeping away of the obstacles to free growth.Go ahead and read the whole thing. I'm feeling too lazy to pick out anymore sections or do any commentary.
This difference between liberalism and conservatism must not be obscured by the fact that in the United States it is still possible to defend individual liberty by defending long-established institutions. To the liberal they are valuable not mainly because they are long established or because they are American but because they correspond to the ideals which he cherishes.
Finally, my review of Whose Freedom? by George Lakoff might be of some service.
Hope that helps.