Tuesday, July 22, 2003

From blog reader Nicholas Stanosheck
Six canons of conservatism
by Russell Kirk
Any informed conservative is reluctant to condense profound and intricate
intellectual systems to a few pretentious phrases; he prefers to leave
that technique to the enthusiasm of radicals. Conservatism is not a fixed and
immutable body of dogma, and conservatives inherit from [Edmund] Burke a talent
for re-expressing their convictions to fit the time. As a working premise,
nevertheless, one can observe here that the essence of social
conservatism is preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity.
Conservatives respect the wisdom of their ancestors...; they are dubious of
wholesale alteration. They think society is a spiritual reality, possessing an
eternal life but a delicate constitution: it cannot be scrapped and
recast as if it were a machine. [Interesting analogue to the Church Catholic.]
"What is conservatism?" Abraham Lincoln inquired once.
"Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and
untried?" It is that, but it is more. Professor Hearnshaw, in his
Conservatism in England, lists a dozen principles of conservatives, but
possibly these may be comprehended in a briefer catalogue. I think that
there are six canons of conservative thought:

1. Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience,
forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living
and dead. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral
problems....

2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional
life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and equalitarianism and
utilitarian aims of most radical systems....

3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and clases. The
only true equality is moral equality all other attempts at leveling lead to
despair, if enforced by positive legislation. Society longs for
leadership and if a people destroy natural distinctions among men presently
Buonaparte fills the vacuum.

4. Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and
that economic leveling is not economic progress. Separate property from
private possession, and liberty is erased.

5. Faith in prescription and distrust of "sophisters and calculators."
Man must put a control upon his will and his appetite, for conservatives
know man to be governed more by emotion than by reason. Tradition and sound
prejudice provide checks upon man's anarchic impulse. [As my mentors at lewrockwell.com
put it, libertarianism ≠ libertinism. Or as John Adams put it, the American
experiment of personal freedom only works with a godly people.]

6. Recognition that change and reform are not identical, and that
innovation is a devouring conflagration more often than it is a torch of
progress. Society must alter, for slow change is the means of its
conservation, like the human body's perpetual renewal; but Providence is
the proper instrument for change, and the test of a statesman is his
cognizance of the real tendency of Providential social forces.

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