Read Russell Kirk’s Ten Signs You Might Be a Conservative. Moses knew what he was doing: all good lists need ten items. Thus, Kirk’s decalogue.
I won’t quote all of them. Instead I chose my foremost principle from his list. Your own most singularly important directive may be different, but for me it is number Six:
conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability
This one inspires such hope. Was it Peter Cook who so memorably wrote/sang “We are all miserable sinners, filthy f**kers, a***holes”? That man obviously knew his Calvin. [The video link sometimes takes a moment to come up - WARNING: this is an R-rated video, NSFW just for the audio].
However, I am more interested in the idea of imperfectability when you juxtapose it with the progressive notion that we can somehow reach a utopian place - or rather, the even more dangerous idea that the state can somehow provide this fantasyland for us if we just grant it a bit more leeway in our lives, a slightly larger dip into our pocket. Then we will sit by the river banks and sing Kumbayah to one another…in perfect harmony, too. All the French will be kind; all the English will have good teeth to match their rosy skin; all the Americans will be shy and prepossessing.
Dream on, oh you-who-claim-to-do-this-all-for-the-sake-of-the-children on the one hand, while stiff-arming with your other hand any question of reconsidering a needful ban on partial birth abortions. America is the only country in the world that has made this barbarism lawful.
You are the people who are so knee-jerk certain there are no differences between men and women that you will destroy the career of any colleague who disagrees. You also refuse to see that men and women by their very natures (yes different natures) can never be other than the flawed people we are right now. We can strive for Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, but we can only apprehend limited views of any of them. It is this longing itself for virtue that makes us deeply human, and the ability to live with the tension of ambiguity that makes us wise.
Kirk said of conservatism:
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Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word “conservative” as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.
The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.
In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy “change is the means of our preservation.”) A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers [or the Imperial Senate - D]. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude.
It is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives’ convictions; nevertheless, I offer you, summarily, ten general principles; it seems safe to say that most conservatives would subscribe to most of these maxims.
And then he goes on to list the “sentiments” of a conservative mind.
I came to conservatism via applied economics lessons (e.g., listening to Laffer) but I stayed for the socializing, which is the exact opposite of socialism, I hasten to add. Conservatives know they are curmudgeons and that all human beings are flawed.
Liberals, meanwhile, are condemned to pretend they love everyone…except for conservatives that is, whom they are happy to loathe whenever given the least opportunity. Some of my favorite “criticism” of our blog has come from liberals who refer to particular body parts when speaking of Gates of Vienna. It is then that we know we’re on the right track. Poor James Wolcott is reduced to school yard taunts whenever he happens upon us; we don’t mind at all - the traffic is great and his friends flit through, seldom dropping a comment on their way back to tell James how absolutely exquisite is his assessment of our modest efforts. Vive le Wolcott!
As I said, my preference is for the turn of mind Russell Kirk lists as number the sixth:
[C]onservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: “the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.
They have also perverted a deep human longing, one not capable of fulfillment this side of the grave.
As you can tell, Kirk was a philosophical descendant of Edmund Burke. However, his basic ideas about human nature have been since borne out by neonatology and infant studies. We are too much even for ourselves. We are forced to exit the womb too soon, and we do so because of our huge forebrain, which will grow in the next two years until the organism is most recognizably human: walking, talking, and applying the lessons he learns along the way.
I suggest you look at the other nine qualities and decide which, if any, fit you best.
For my libertarian friends, surely you can find one or two? If not exactly so related as to be kissing cousins, we certainly have some habits of thought, or sentiments, in common. For sure, we both distrust the government to look out for individual interests. In fact, we know government cannot do so; beyond a certain modest size it is of necessity a malignancy.
I long ago turned in my ACLU card and my membership in the NAACP. By then, both marriages had gone bad. As an ex-member of each, I consider myself the lucky one. Meanwhile, they continue to morph into ever more avaricious parodies of their original selves. I left because they changed, but in the process of leaving I was changed, too.
I’ll be darned. Of all the things I could have possibly become, I find myself a Conservative. No doubt The Cosmos is ROTFLHAO.