Russell Kirk’s “Ten Principles of Conservatism.” Does He Have it Right?

 

Kirk-ReaganOne of the things I like most about Ricochet is that, while we spend a lot of time debating topical  issues of the day (SSM, anyone?), we also spend a fair amount of time addressing questions of principle: 

“What are the tenets of conservatism?”

“What does it mean to be a libertarian?”

“What are the defining characteristics of the RINO.”

I thinkwe all know that there are a variety of strands of conservatism (the three most prominent being the fiscal conservative strand, the libertarian strand, and the religious conservative/social conservative strand). None of these stand in glorious isolation; indeed, many principles are common to all of them (though, of course, there are significant differences).  I like to believe I’m a freedom-loving religious conservative with a strong streak of fiscal conservatism.

kirk buckley

Russell Kirk—through books like The Conservative Mind and The Roots of American Order, the role he played in the early days of National Review (the picture is Kirk with William F. Buckley, Jr.), and through scores of articles—was one of the best, most prominent spokesmen for the traditional religious strand of conservative thought.

Kirk famously argued that “the body of opinion termed conservatism” is “neither a religion nor an ideology.’ Thus, it “possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata.” 

But that did not mean conservatism is only a vague, content-free inclination. In The Conservative Mind (originally published in 1953) Kirk described what he called six canons of conservative thought. Four decades later, he expanded those ideas into “ten principles of conservatism,” which were based on his 1993 book The Politics of Prudence.

Kirk adapted his short essay—”The Ten Principles of Conservatism”— from the book. It is available on the website of the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal here. It’s not a long read, and well worth the time.

I felt it might be worthwhile to introduce these principles to the members of Ricochet (or remind those who are already familiar with them). After I quote each of the 10 principles, I provide some explanatory quotes by Kirk, and occasionally my own editorial comments (in brackets).

“First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.” Kirk says, “That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.” While Kirk approached this issue from his fervent Christian beliefs, it is clear that it is not necessary that a person be religious to embrace the idea of a natural and enduring moral order. For example, the absolute truths examined and defended by C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man may be accepted without embracing religious faith (though I suspect the existence of religious belief makes it much easier to do so). Likewise, the “natural law” philosophy so ably articulated by Hadley Arkes in First Things and other books is entirely explicable in the absence of religion. Kirk said that “[a] society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society . . . .”

“Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.” Kirk explains that it is “old custom that enables people to live together peaceably; the destroyers of custom demolish more than they know or desire. It is through convention—a word much abused in our time—that we contrive to avoid perpetual disputes about rights and duties: law at base is a body of conventions. Continuity is the means of linking generation to generation . . . .”  A belief in custom and tradition, however, does not imply that conservatives are reactionaries. No conservative looks fondly back on slavery or the Jim Crow era. Conservatives know that change, properly made, is critical in any society. But conservatives do reject the massive utopian changes represented by the French and Russian Revolutions, and by the modern progressive movement that has hijacked liberalism. Conservatives thus reject the massive social changes for which the left incessantly clamors: utopia is merely a dream—it will never be a reality in human society, and all attempts to impose utopia will become an ugly mess, whose casualties are real human beings.

“Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.” Kirk: “[C]onservatives very often emphasize the importance of prescription—that is, of things established by immemorial usage . . . .”  Private property, for example. Why? Because conservatives “sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time.” In other words, conservatives are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the prescriptive truths developed by our wise ancestors over centuries. It is pure conceit to believe that only the current generation has wisdom, and that it possesses either the knowledge or moral authority to overturn the foolishness of the past. Kirk: “It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise . . . .”  Overturning the natural, historical order rapidly and thoughtlessly will produce far more human misery than utopian paradise.

“Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.” Thus, conservatives believe in thoughtful analysis based on valid empirical data. Kirk: “Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.” Because human society is complex, conservatives act only “after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences.” Liberals, on the other hand, tend to “dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away.” [See, for example, Obamacare].

“Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.” Conservatives are often accused of being mindless conformists. This is wrong. Conservatives “feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.” [Witness the mindless conformity we are seeing on college campuses, or, in contrast, the great variety of people and ideas expressed here on Ricochet]. Further, conservatives reject the idea of absolute equality:  “[f]or the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality.” At the same time, conservatives believe men are equal before the law and, if they are religious, equal before God. Kirk: “[A]ll other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation.” Finally, all attempts to destroy the current social order completely will presently be replaced by a “tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs who will create new forms of inequality.”

“Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.” Mankind suffers “irremediably from certain grave faults,” and because men are imperfect, it follows that “no perfect social order ever can be created.” We must strive, through the practice of prudence, to make human society better; but conservatives also know that all “we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk.” On the other hand, “[t]he ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.”

“Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.” Kirk espoused two key principles: First, when we “[s]eparate property from private possession, . . . Leviathan [big government] becomes master of all.” Second, it is upon “the foundation of private property, great civilizations are built. The more widespread is the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a commonwealth.”

“Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.”   Conservatives do not embrace mindless individualism. “Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.”  These local, voluntary associations are the “little platoons” described by Burke and de Tocqueville that create genuine and effective local institutions that are a key ingredient of a free society. “[S]o long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community.” Danger arises when these organizations are absorbed or usurped by “central authority.”

“Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.” On the one side, Kirk saw great danger in the overweening state (despotism), which occurs when “an individual or a small group are able to dominate the wills of their fellows without check.” Despotism can be “monarchical or aristocratic or democratic.” [Think, for example, of the small cadre of bureaucrats at the EPA, operating under executive orders, working diligently to create regulations that will destroy the coal industry.]  On the other side, “[w] hen every person claims to be a power unto himself, then society falls into anarchy.” Thus, there must be reasonable checks on individual action [and herein lies one of the dividing lines between the libertarian and the traditional conservative] just as there are checks on government power. “A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.”

“Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.” Once again, Kirk rejects the claims that the “conservative is opposed to social improvement.” But Kirk also asserts that conservatives doubt “whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress . . .  at work in the world.” Kirk accepts Coleridge’s idea that “any healthy society is influenced by two forces . . . called Permanence and . . . Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate.” [This idea links directly back to the Aristotelian idea of a “golden mean.”] The most difficult aspect of any society is the process by which one “endeavors to reconcile the claims of Permanence and the claims of Progression. . . The conservative . . . favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old.”

So, Ricochetti, what do you think? I’m certain there are many other ways of articulating the fundamental principles of conservative thought. Nonetheless, just as I have been guided by Russell Kirk’s analysis in The Conservative Mind, I believe he has capably articulated the fundamental reasons I call myself a conservative.

What has he missed?  What nails has he hit perfectly on the head?

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  1. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    I’ve said before that when I was a younger programmer, I’d come upon some code written by the last guy, and if I didn’t understand why it was coded that way, I’d just write it off as the mistake of an inferior programmer. Then I’d write my own … and inevitably I’d stumble onto some situation that my code couldn’t fix, but that the previous guy’s code had anticipated and solved.

    Oh.  So that’s why he did that!

    It isn’t that conservatism simply hangs onto existing traditions. We only hang onto the stuff that works. Once it has proved itself, then we hang onto it … until something comes along that proves itself better.  But experience teaches that you don’t abandon the old version until the new version proves itself. 

    Or, as Mom always said, keep the receipt.

    ObamaCare is the ultimate example of the liberal mindset. Of course it should work! What could go wrong? Throw away that receipt, we don’t need it anymore!

    • #1
  2. user_646010 Member
    user_646010
    @Kephalithos

    tabula rasa: Kirk: “It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise . . . .”

    I disagree slightly. Accumulated wisdom is indeed invaluable, but such wisdom is best applied, I believe, by the individual in the form of principle.

    Society affirms principles at times and abandons them at others; for this reason, I’m skeptical of the notion of a moral “golden age.”

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  3. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    KC Mulville: I’ve said before that when I was a younger programmer, I’d come upon some code written by the last guy, and if I didn’t understand why it was coded that way, I’d just write it off as the mistake of an inferior programmer. Then I’d write my own … and inevitably I’d stumble onto some situation that my code couldn’t fix, but that the previous guy’s code had anticipated and solved. Oh.  So that’s why he did that!

     That’s a great analogy.

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  4. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    Kephalithos:

    I disagree slightly. Accumulated wisdom is indeed invaluable, but such wisdom is best applied, I believe, by the individual in the form of principle.

    Society affirms principles at times and abandons them at others; for this reason, I’m skeptical of the notion of a moral “golden age.”

    I think this is an area where Kirk and Lewis would disagree with you. Neither argued that there is a “golden age” of morals, but that there are moral principles that are universal and eternal.  Here’s Kirk’s statement with more context:

    “Conservatives argue that we are unlikely . . . to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste. It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise, Burke declared. In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.”

    I agree with you that moral principles (whether eternal or not), must be exercised through individuals choosing what to do or not do.  action.

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  5. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    “Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. The more widespread is the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a commonwealth.”

    Bingo. Acquiring private property requires a dogged work ethic and if one is to succeed in business, it is imperative to compensate employees fairly and provide value to consumers. Capitalism can provide as strong an incentive to live a moral life as does religion.

    Never underestimate the positive power of self-interest.

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  6. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Kirk: On the other side, “[w] hen every person claims to be a power unto himself, then society falls into anarchy.”  Thus, there must be reasonable checks on individual action [and herein lies one of the dividing lines between the libertarian and the traditional conservative] just as there are checks on government power. 

    I’ve more a question than an objection: what is the nature and the scope of those checks?  For instance, I’ve no issue whatsoever bringing hard social sanction and disapproval on someone who abuses drugs or alcohol and can’t take care of themselves or their family, but I’ve a very different answer applying state action to a casual, responsible drug user who takes care of himself and doesn’t harm society.

    I realize Kirk is intentionally painting in broad strokes, but this is a little too broad.

    • #6
  7. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    tabula rasa: Because conservatives “sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time.”

    I agree with the general analogy and sentiment that we’re the beneficiaries of generations of accumulated wisdom, but I chafe a little at the giants/dwarfs language.  Even the Founders — about as laudable a group of men as have ever entered politics — were no more and no less human than I, to say nothing of future generations.

    We’re standing on a lot of shoulders whose combined height is greater than our own.  That doesn’t make them giants nor us dwarfs.

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  8. user_646010 Member
    user_646010
    @Kephalithos

    tabula rasa: I think this is an area where Kirk and Lewis would disagree with you. Neither argued that there is a “golden age” of morals, but that there are moral principles that are universal and eternal.

    I expressed my second point poorly; sorry. I do believe that some principles are, as you explain, “universal and eternal,” but I also believe that the individual is the best means of applying these principles. To an extent, it’s a matter of temperament; I (personally) dislike certain forms of collective activity, whether state-sanctioned or not.

    A few months ago, I coined a maxim relevant to my “golden age” comment:

    It is better to live a virtuous life in the midst of a depraved society, than to merely drift toward virtue on the current of popular culture.

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  9. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    Tom Meyer:

    I agree with the general analogy and sentiment that we’re the beneficiaries of generations of accumulated wisdom, but I chafe a little at the giants/dwarfs language. Even the Founders — about as laudable a group of men as have ever entered politics — were no more and no less human than I, to say nothing of future generations.

    We’re standing on a lot of shoulders whose combined height is greater than our own. That doesn’t make them giants nor us dwarfs.

    I mostly agree with your last point, and I suspect Kirk would have too.  Certainly not all of our ancestors were giants, but some were (Locke, Montesquieu, Lincoln, Washington, Madison, and many other founders), and we would be fools to reject what they’ve passed on to us. 

    One of the problems with the progressive mind is that it treats pretty much everyone of the past as dwarfs (and that includes the founders and the masterpiece they created:  the American Constitution).  At the same time, they treat modern progressive “experts” (e.g., Cass Sunstein, Paul Krugman, Tom Friedman) as giants. 

    • #9
  10. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    tabula rasa: I mostly agree with your last point, and I suspect Kirk would have too.

    So how do you explain the giants/dwarfs language you quoted in the OP?

    tabula rasa: One of the problems with the progressive mind is that it treats pretty much everyone of the past as dwarfs (and that includes the founders and the masterpiece they created:  the American Constitution).  At the same time, they treat modern progressive “experts” (e.g., Cass Sunstein, Paul Krugman, Tom Friedman) as giants. 

    No disagreement there. :)

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  11. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    EThompson:

    “Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. The more widespread is the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a commonwealth.”

    Bingo. Acquiring private property requires a dogged work ethic and if one is to succeed in business, it is imperative to compensate employees fairly and provide value to consumers. Capitalism can provide as strong an incentive to live a moral life as does religion.

    Never underestimate the positive power of self-interest.

    Here’s a question about property rights.  Isn’t it a foundational right that makes other rights meaningful?  Free speech becomes meaningless when all jobs are handed out by the government and it owns all printing presses (or access to the Internet).  Right of assembly is kind of empty when the government owns all the meeting places.  And, of course, the government would own all the guns, and they would be used to keep the populace in place, not to protect their freedoms. 

    Property rights are necessary for most other rights, though property rights may not alone be sufficient to protect those rights.  Does that make sense?

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  12. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    “Property rights are necessary for most other rights, though property rights may not alone be sufficient to protect those rights. ”

    This comment alone justified three years of Ricochet dues! Thank you. You’ve given me food for thought for another post.

    <Edited> for one final thought:  Property rights do require, in order to firmly establish themselves, the rule of originalist, constitutional law.

    • #12
  13. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    Tom Meyer:

    Kirk: On the other side, “[w] hen every person claims to be a power unto himself, then society falls into anarchy.” Thus, there must be reasonable checks on individual action . . . just as there are checks on government power.

    I’ve more a question than an objection: what is the nature and the scope of those checks? For instance, I’ve no issue whatsoever bringing hard social sanction and disapproval on someone who abuses drugs or alcohol and can’t take care of themselves or their family, but I’ve a very different answer applying state action to a casual, responsible drug user who takes care of himself and doesn’t harm society.

    . . .

    I don’t know how for certain how Kirk would answer the question, but I suspect he would turn to the idea of prudence.  For prudential reasons, some acts should be proscribed while other lesser acts should not (or should be discouraged instead of criminalized).  This process requires one to look at the data.  I’m not certain Kirk ever weighed in on decriminalization of drugs.

    He certainly was no libertarian.  Apparently, he and Frank Meyer had some legendary battles in the early days of NR.

    • #13
  14. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    Tom Meyer:

    tabula rasa: I mostly agree with your last point, and I suspect Kirk would have too.

    So how do you explain the giants/dwarfs language you quoted in the OP?

    I see your point.  I would chalk it up to an overbroad metaphor.  I don’t think Kirk thought all moderns to be moral pygmies nor all people of the past to be moral giants.  The metaphor, as I read it, suggests that each of us is smaller than the accumulated wisdom of the past because our store of wisdom is the result of  thousands of years of thought and refinement.  No matter the period, there are giants and pygmies.

    That’s how I read it.


    • #14
  15. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    One more thought on the accumulated wisdom of the past, and how the modern progressive mind perceives it.  This is from Michael Oakeshott.  He wrote that modern liberals have “no sense of the cumulation of experience . . . .:  the past is significant only to [them] as an encumbrance.”  For the modern liberal, then, “nothing is of value merely because it exists (and certainly not because it has existed for many generations), familiarity has no worth, and nothing is to be left standing for want of scrutiny.”

    • #15
  16. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Tom Meyer:

    I’ve more a question than an objection: what is the nature and the scope of those checks? For instance, I’ve no issue whatsoever bringing hard social sanction and disapproval on someone who abuses drugs or alcohol and can’t take care of themselves or their family, but I’ve a very different answer applying state action to a casual, responsible drug user who takes care of himself and doesn’t harm society.

    I realize Kirk is intentionally painting in broad strokes, but this is a little too broad.

     I think this brings up an interesting point between common law systems and civil law systems and conservatives and libertarians.  Conservatives are very comfortable in the common law system because it allows flexibility for fairness, proportion, and equity.  However, it seems to me libertarians would prefer civil law systems because the application of state power is then very predictable.  Unfortunately, many conservatives have also helped to weaken the common law system in the US by supporting mandatory minimum sentences and the like.  I think our society is much better off allowing judges and juries complete flexibility.      

    • #16
  17. user_536506 Member
    user_536506
    @ScottWilmot

    They really like Russell Kirk over at The Imaginative Conservative.

    From their home page:

    The conservative is concerned, first of all, with the regeneration of the spirit and character—with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest. – Russell Kirk

    I think he gets it right.

    • #17
  18. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Tom Meyer:

    Kirk: On the other side, “[w] hen every person claims to be a power unto himself, then society falls into anarchy.” Thus, there must be reasonable checks on individual action [and herein lies one of the dividing lines between the libertarian and the traditional conservative] just as there are checks on government power.

    I’ve more a question than an objection: what is the nature and the scope of those checks? For instance, I’ve no issue whatsoever bringing hard social sanction and disapproval on someone who abuses drugs or alcohol and can’t take care of themselves or their family, but I’ve a very different answer applying state action to a casual, responsible drug user who takes care of himself and doesn’t harm society.

    I realize Kirk is intentionally painting in broad strokes, but this is a little too broad.

     Kirk is ambiguous on that point, but I think I agree that he inclines towards a more conservative view of conservatism than you do. Since conservatives disagree on that point, but incline towards a more conservative view, I’d say he got that issue just about right, although specific issues were not targeted. 

    • #18
  19. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    tabula rasa:

    Tom Meyer:

    I agree with the general analogy and sentiment that we’re the beneficiaries of generations of accumulated wisdom, but I chafe a little at the giants/dwarfs language. Even the Founders — about as laudable a group of men as have ever entered politics — were no more and no less human than I, to say nothing of future generations.

    We’re standing on a lot of shoulders whose combined height is greater than our own. That doesn’t make them giants nor us dwarfs.

    I mostly agree with your last point, and I suspect Kirk would have too. 

     I don’t think that Kirk would. “Conservative”, as Kirk repeatedly wrote, meant “someone who thinks like Burke”, and Burke did not believe his generation inferior to the average individual previous generation. I think this is an area where Kirk approaches Plato rather than Burke, though.
    Tom goes too far the other way. We are not all equal. With greater time afforded to study, we may be greater than most past generations, but the Constitution  building was a unique moment of brilliance in human history, rivaled perhaps only by the First Council of Nicaea, and should receive proper reverence. 

    • #19
  20. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    James Of England: Tom goes too far the other way. We are not all equal. With greater time afforded to study, we may be greater than most past generations, but the Constitution  building was a unique moment of brilliance in human history, rivaled perhaps only by the First Council of Nicaea, and should receive proper reverence. 

     I didn’t mean to give that impression, though I totally see how I did.  There are truly great men and great generations in our past that outshine ours by a long shot.  My objection was to (what I read to be) the implied point that we and future generations can never make similar achievements.

    • #20
  21. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Tom Meyer:

    I didn’t mean to give that impression, though I totally see how I did. There are truly great men and great generations in our past that outshine ours by a long shot. My objection was to (what I read to be) the implied point that we and future generations can never make similar achievements.

     If I make the statement that we on Ricochet are not Olympic athletes, I don’t mean to suggest that there will never be a member of Ricochet who is, merely that exceptional people are the exception, and can generally assume, absent strong evidence to the contrary, that the people we are dealing with are not.
    It’s a rebuttable presumption, but it seems likely to me that Lilek’s wonderful segues and even the dialogues of Cheers will be lost to time before Hamlet is. Maybe the next generation will outdo the Bard, but probably not. All of Kirk’s ten principles are starting points rather than absolute rules, and I think it sensible to presume that our generation, and the next, will be of shorter stature than the Founders. If not, good for them, or us. 

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  22. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Continuity, prudence and permanence are fine things when one is preserving a settled order mindful of enduring moral truths. How, then, does the conservative act when the established order is increasingly hostile to those truths, and to the liberty to express them?

    • #22
  23. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    genferei:

    Continuity, prudence and permanence are fine things when one is preserving a settled order mindful of enduring moral truths. How, then, does the conservative act when the established order is increasingly hostile to those truths, and to the liberty to express them?

    Here’s how I would respond.

    When the established order violates one or more of the broad array of conservative principles (e.g., stomping on property rights, inhibiting speech on campus, abridging second amendment rights, establishing a regime of abortion-on-demand, mandating mindless conformism in health care, creating a form of democratic despotism–or worse, despotism by executive decree) then the conservative should strive to return the polity to policies more consistent with those principles.

    The old saw that a conservative cannot–by definition–seek reform of whatever exists currently is an inversion of the principle of prudence.  Profligate deficit spending is not prudent; becoming willfully toothless in international affairs is not prudent; creating an unworkable and profligate health care system is not prudent. 

    We should seek reforms consonant with an internally consistent set of principles.  While likely imperfect (as most human ventures are), Kirk’s effort to articulate those principles is a worthy one.

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  24. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    One more thought on my response to the excellent question raised by genferei.  The last of Kirk’s principles is that “the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.”

    That’s why the idea of “conservative reform” is not an oxymoron.  When the left does crazy stuff, conservatives need not take the new status quo as a given.  Consistent with conservative principle they should develop policies that balance “permanence and change.” (i.e., repeal Obamacare and replace it with market-based reforms that more closely conform to conservative principles).

    I agree with James’s comment above that Kirk’s principles are the starting point for the argument about what we should do.  Kirk makes no attempt to create an ideology that stops the debate before it begins. 

    It is, I believe, to be expected that thoughtful conservatives will disagree on specific policy prescriptions, even while generally agreeing on the overarching principles of conservatism.  That’s one of the reasons Kirk counsels that new policies should be carefully and gradually implemented:  it’s the only way to combine “necessary change” with prudence.

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  25. MMPadre Member
    MMPadre
    @

    You explain one of his principles as implying that “At the same time, conservatives believe men are equal before the law and, if they are religious, equal before God.”

    I’m sure Professor Kirk would have said that they are equal before God whether they believed in Him or not.

    • #25
  26. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    MMPadre:

    You explain one of his principles as implying that “At the same time, conservatives believe men are equal before the law and, if they are religious, equal before God.”

    I’m sure Professor Kirk would have said that they are equal before God whether they believed in Him or not.

     No doubt.  I agree.

    • #26
  27. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    genferei:

    Continuity, prudence and permanence are fine things when one is preserving a settled order mindful of enduring moral truths. How, then, does the conservative act when the established order is increasingly hostile to those truths, and to the liberty to express them?

     I think that Kirk is essentially giving us an essence of Burke, so the best way to appreciate the meaning of his words is to look at Burke’s actions when the established order was hostile to those truths and the liberty to express them; in India, Ireland, and America, he keenly supported significant reform to protect and expand the enduring moral truth and liberty. 

    Conservatism was born, in the Reflections, with a crusader’s sword in its hand. 

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  28. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    James Of England:

    genferei:

    Continuity, prudence and permanence are fine things when one is preserving a settled order mindful of enduring moral truths. How, then, does the conservative act when the established order is increasingly hostile to those truths, and to the liberty to express them?

    I think that Kirk is essentially giving us an essence of Burke, so the best way to appreciate the meaning of his words is to look at Burke’s actions when the established order was hostile to those truths and the liberty to express them; in India, Ireland, and America, he keenly supported significant reform to protect and expand the enduring moral truth and liberty.

    Conservatism was born, in the Reflections, with a crusader’s sword in its hand.

     Well said. 

    • #28
  29. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Member
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    I am a Russell Kirk Conservative, with the possible exception that I believe in a more vigourous and muscular foreign policy than he advocated.  But I can’t argue with any of the ten principles.  I think they are spot on.

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