In my last two posts, I’ve shared quotes/comments from the essay “The Essence of Conservatism” by conservative icon Russell Kirk. As previously noted, there are a number of additional explanations for and about the foundations of the conservative personality worth considering as well. Current events make clear that Kirk’s understandings are still as valid today as they were decades ago when first shared. [Quotes that follow are all from the referenced essay.]
Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change – F.A. Hayek, from his essay “Why I Am Not A Conservative.”
In my last post, I shared a quote from Russell Kirk’s essay “The Essence of Conservatism.” I’ve since revisited some of his other observations in that piece, along with related commentary from others on similar themes such as the one expressed above, and found more than a few worth sharing.
Conservatives take a dim view of progress. They are not so foolish as to deny that great advances have been made in science, technology, medicine, communication, management, education, and so forth, and that they have changed human lives for the better. But they have also changed them for the worse. Advances have been both beneficial and harmful. They have certainly enlarged the stock of human possibilities, but the possibilities are for both good and evil, and new possibilities are seldom without new evils. Conservatives tend to be pessimistic because they doubt that more possibilities will make lives on the whole better. They believe that there are obstacles that stand in the way of the permanent overall improvement of the human condition.
[There is] the commonly held notion that conservatives are especially likely to value tradition, conformity, social order, and consensual adherence to rules, norms, and conventions….It is also consistent with the assumption that it is generally easier to establish common ground with respect to the status quo than with respect to its many possible alternatives and to communicate effectively by transmitting messages that are relatively simple and unambiguous rather than reflecting the kind of complex, nuanced, and perhaps ambivalent cognitive and rhetorical styles that seem to be more common on the political left than the right. (links/citations in original) *
The task for those of us on the Left is in part to better understand the traditions and significance of conservative thought which create the motivation for the Right’s “individuals-and-markets-first” approach to governing.
So too must we be both clearer about the motivations and values which drive our community-oriented philosophy, and more consistent in sharing those values. More information can only help lower the hyper-partisanship temperature, while diminishing both the knee-jerk inclinations and justifications for demonizing the Left.
Kekes * argues that ‘the fundamental aim of conservatism is to conserve the political arrangements that have shown themselves to be conducive to good lives’. And, he continues, ‘the conservative view is that history is the best guide to understanding the present and planning for the future because it indicates what political arrangements are likely to make lives good or bad’.
*John Kekes is currently a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Univ of Albany [NY]. The reference above is from his article “What Is Conservatism?”
Traditionalism and hostility to social innovation were central to Mannheim’s … sociological analysis of conservatism. Rossiter … too, defined situational conservatism in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences as ‘an attitude of opposition to disruptive change in the social, economic, legal, religious, political, or cultural order….’ He added, The distinguishing mark of this conservatism, as indeed it is of any brand of conservatism, is the fear of change [italics added], which becomes transformed in the political arena into the fear of radicalism….’ Consistent with this notion, Conover and Feldman … found that the primary basis for self-definitions of liberals and conservatives has to do with acceptance of, versus resistance to, change. [Citations and references in original quote]*