Political conservatism is the feeling that *power* shouldn't change, that the people (individuals, families, or groups) who were powerful when I was young should be the powerful ones when I am old. That's why 19th-century conservatives were in favor of hereditary aristocracy, while 21st-century ones favor large corporations. To my mind the Republican abandoment of the professed principles of "movement conservatism" (small government, low public debt) doesn't show that they aren't "really" conservatives, it just proves that political conservatism is and was always about unchanging structures of power.
Social conservatism and even religious conservatism have IMHO become ever more clearly about keeping one particular sort of power unchanged: the dominance of men over women. It has also become clear to me that gender conservatism is a huge motivator: it's why abortion, gay rights, contraception, etc., are such hot-button topics in the US. It doesn't matter how much you're being screwed by the crony capitalists so long as women know our place.
There is a useful place in the political discourse for a position of scepticism to any major change: "don't change horses in midstream," if it ain't broke don't fix it". This is what in old-time (e.g. Dante) Christian virtuology (or whatever it's called) was covered under the cardinal, pre-Christian virtues of Prudence and Temperance.
The trouble with it as a political approach is that it doesn't address the most basic of all political issues, which is "who has power?" Do you change ruling classes in midstream? Do what degree does the distribution of wealth have to be broken before you fix it?
Justice is also a cardinal virtue, and it is by nature not conservative: it defends the weak against the strong, it undermines the natural conservative order of things.
I'm chewing over in my mind whether the rise of fundamentalisms and other reactionary conservative movements is due, perhaps, to Future Shock. Not just the technological shock Toffler mostly talked about, but the shock of seeing the society around you constantly and acceleratingly changing. I can't remember if Toffler predicted a new wave of fundamentalism as a response to future shock, but he should have.