"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles: moral order is no. 1

During this election cycle, for those of us who consider ourselves to be conservative, it might be helpful to go back and think again about the basic principles of a conservative approach to political, economic & social issues. Conservativism, as Russell Kirk often reminded his readers, is not an ideology. Rather, it is an approach to thinking about questions of social, political, legal, spiritual & moral order. This approach, according to Kirk, is typified by several different characteristics, or as Kirk called them, "sentiments." For the next two weeks or so, I would like to spend some time reprinting Kirk's understanding of these different conservative sentiments, posting a different principle by Kirk. Kirk's essay, Ten Conservative Principles, is available in its entirety here. Here's the first principle:
First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent. This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. The problem of order has been a principal concern of conservatives ever since conservative became a term of politics.
Our twentieth-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order. Like the atrocities and disasters of Greece in the fifth century before Christ, the ruin of great nations in our century shows us the pit into which fall societies that mistake clever self-interest, or ingenious social controls, for pleasing alternatives to an oldfangled moral order. It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. 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—whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.


Kerry said...

You may resonate with this from Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI: " In the list of areas where the pernicious effects of sin are evident, the economy has been included for some time now. We have a clear proof of this at the present time. The conviction that man is self-sufficient and can successfully eliminate the evil present in history by his own action alone has led him to confuse happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material prosperity and social action. Then, the conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way. In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise."

Mark DeForrest said...

Thanks for sharing that quote. Benedict is quite insightful for the most part.