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.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
The First Conservative Principle: "an enduring moral order"
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, and 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, and moral order. This approach, according to Kirk, is typified by several different characteristics, or as Kirk called them, "sentiments." For the next ten days or so, I would like to spend some time reprinting Kirk's understanding of these different conservative sentiments. Each day I will be posting a different principle by Kirk. Kirk's essay, Ten Conservative Principles, is available in its entirety here. Here's the first principle: