Russell Kirk’s First Conservative Principle: An Enduring Moral Order

What does it actually mean to be a conservative? Even here on this website, we claim to provide conservative political commentary from a Christian worldview. What do we mean though when we talk about being conservative?

Different attempts have been made to define what it actually means to be conservative, but one of the most popular and enduring frameworks has been The Ten Conservative Principles of Russell Kirk. Kirk summarized these principles in The Politics of Prudence, and I think that they serve as a reasonable spot to begin a discussion as to what conservatives actually believe.

The degree to which I and other conservatives on this website will absolutely agree with Kirk will certainly vary depending on the Principle, so please do not think of this as a kind of “statement of faith” that every contributor on our website subscribes to necessarily. We have not all pledged allegiance to Russell Kirk, but he is a critical voice in this conversation that can bring a great deal of clarity to a difficult, modern, and often confusing portrayal of conservatism.

Kirk writes:

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 is one principle that all contributors on this website will subscribe to as we all affirm a Christian worldview. This is absolutely consistent with the world that we find ourselves in. There is a moral order established by God, and we are subject to those laws. These truths are unchanging, and our human nature of rebellion is sadly a constant. We therefore need moral guidelines, laid out in Scripture, as a way to point just towards consistency with the enduring moral order God established.

For those of you who are reading this and are not Christians, you might find this hard to swallow. In fact, you might argue that you are a conservative who rejects this first Principle. You are an atheist and do not embrace any type of enduring moral order. You don’t think there is a higher power that has somehow established right and wrong in the universe.

I would contend, however, everyone is a conservative in regards to this principle. It might be popular to preach that everything is subjective, and there are no absolute truths. However, no one actually lives like that. Even Nietzsche failed here. For all of you out there who say that you have an “open mind” and are “open to everything,” you are just deceiving yourselves. You might be open to some things that are not consistent with God’s Word, but there are self or societally-created boundaries that you have as well. You probably believe that theft is wrong when someone breaks into your house and takes your stuff. Like it or not, you might want to say that you don’t believe in some type of higher moral order, but you really do. It is just that you believe that you have created this enduring moral order yourself.

In fact, you believe that this order that you have established is also made for mankind. You might say that you don’t want to impose your morality on someone else because of your purportedly open mind. However, how do you feel when you see someone wearing a Make America Great Again hat? Do you think it is wrong to wear that emblematic article of clothing? Deep down, I know that some of you think that is wrong. You won’t admit it because you realize the contradiction you’re walking into, but you treat that person and talk about that person as if you are imposing your eternal moral order onto them. You want a set of guidelines made in your image.

Therein lies the vast superiority of the Christian worldview. Like it or not, we all are conservative according to this first Principle. We all put our faith in some type of moral order. However, for some of us that is simply our own worldview, and for some of us, that is God’s moral order. When you survey history and see how the results of turned out, I would encourage you to become the right kind of conservative.

Become the type who recognizes the eternal moral order not based in our own minds or our own hearts but created for our minds and our hearts.

This kind of conservative rises above bankrupt semi-subjectivity and the limits of our self-created value systems and embraces objective truth with a reasonable foundation.

I will continue with the second Principle of Russell Kirk in a future post.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the remainder of the series.

Russell Kirk’s First Conservative Principle: An Enduring Moral Order

Russell Kirk’s Second Conservative Principle: Custom, Convention, and Continuity

Russell Kirk’s Third Conservative Principle: Prescription

Russell Kirk’s Fourth Conservative Principle: Prudence

Russell Kirk’s Fifth Conservative Principle: Variety

Russell Kirk’s Sixth Conservative Principle: Imperfectability

Russell Kirk’s Seventh Conservative Principle: Freedom and Property Are Closely Linked

Russell Kirk’s Eighth Conservative Principle: Voluntary Community

Russell Kirk’s Ninth Conservative Principle: Restraints upon Power and upon Human Passions

Russell Kirk’s Tenth Conservative Principle: Permanence and Change

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