The Thinking Conservative: Russell Kirk Rolls Over in his Grave

I spent some time already this morning searching for conservative values and ideologies. Even Wikipedia had a terrible time nailing them down because, it said, There is a great deal of disagreement about what those views are, and meanings may vary with context. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics states: “the label right-wing has many connotations which vary over time and are often only understood within the particular political context.”

The blog, The  Conservative Citizen Project says of conservatism, “Despite the attempts at labeling and hairsplitting many of us fail to easily fit into any one particular category but yet we are undoubtedly a member of the Right.  I like to use the label “common-sense conservative” for myself as I believe that common sense and logic form the firm foundation that all of the various conservative sects are based upon.”

Then there are those angry, reactionary conservatives who we saw and heard at the GOP presidential debates who clapped in approval of Texas’ high execution rate, booed a gay Marine and shouted, ‘Let him die!’ as an answer to a hypothetical question regarding an uninsured man. Or, more recently, those who applauded Rush Limbaugh’s ‘slut’ and ‘prostitute’ condemnation of a law student.

Sadly for the ‘thinking conservative,’ the conservative ideology is being broad-brushed, unfairly by these reactionary characters.

While doing research, I came across the website, the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal. Kirk posted an article titled, Ten Conservative
, and the tenth was most instructive: Tenth, the thinking Conservative. Apparently Kirk separated the reactionary conservative from the type he represented. He was a ‘traditional’ conservative and expressed his views of that political philosophy in his book,  The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana. His disdain for neoconservatives was evident the inception of Gulf War when he stated: ” “Not seldom has it seemed as if some eminent Neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States.”

The tenth principle, The Thinking Conservative, perhaps summarizes his ‘traditional’ conservatism.  He wrote:

The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge called its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate.

Therefore the intelligent conservative endeavors to reconcile the claims of Permanence and the claims of Progression. He thinks that the liberal and the radical, blind to the just claims of Permanence, would endanger the heritage bequeathed to us, in an endeavor to hurry us into some dubious Terrestrial Paradise. The conservative, in short, favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old.

Change is essential to the body social, the conservative reasons, just as it is essential to the human body. A body that has ceased to renew itself has begun to die. But if that body is to be vigorous, the change must occur in a regular manner, harmonizing with the form and nature of that body; otherwise change produces a monstrous growth, a cancer, which devours its host. The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism. Just how much change a society requires, and what sort of change, depend upon the circumstances of an age and a nation.

Change, he writes. Not cemented ideology. Not undue clinging to the past as an idealism which must be worshiped. And clearly not ignorant shouts from the audience nor vile personal attacks on the other.

…Russell Kirk rolls over in his grave


10 thoughts on “The Thinking Conservative: Russell Kirk Rolls Over in his Grave

  1. Hello Muddy,
    It is a good spoken knowledge with regards to businesses that if you are not growing and progressing….you are dying and will soon be going out of business.

    This applies to government too. Those who want to stagnate or even regress are leading this country into a self inflected devastation.

    For those Republican Presidential candidates claiming to be such good businessmen but don’t understand this basic business principle…Speaks much to their lacking of that knowledge.

  2. Interesting POST.

    I have been reading Thomas Paine lately, “Rights of Man”.
    Paine is better known for his pamphlet “Common Sense”, which
    is credited of bringing an understanding of why a separation
    from England was appropriate to the wavering colonists. Paine
    is given credit for ensuring that the American Revolution would
    go forward. )Notice that word “COMMON SENSE”. Kirk is
    using it for conservatism and Paine used it for radicalism.
    “Rights of Man” was written after he had returned to England
    following the American Revolution. The pamphlet is dedicated
    to President Washington and he signed it saying “your much
    obliged and Obedient humble Servant, THOMAS PAINE”.”

    “Rights of Man” was written in two parts, 1791 and 1792, to
    justify two revolutions, the American and French Revolutions.
    Living in England at the time, he is in a precarious position
    obviously. England had just lost her most prized colonies and with
    the French Revolution, the English Monarchy was at risk. Don’t
    hold me to this, but I seem to recall that Paine will flee England because Parliament said the work was “highly seditious” and ordered his arrest for treason so Paine seeks refuge in
    France and runs afoul of the excesses of the French Revolution and
    Franklin rescues him and gets him back to the United States.

    “Common Sense” and “Rights of Man” were widely read in the
    United States. The works defend republican (democracy)
    government. These two pamphlets form the foundation for
    justifying change in government policy and setting the course
    of the American reform movement from then until now.

    ASIDE: I have an old copy and just noticed that the price was
    $1.00, and today the price would be greatly inflated. Yet, we
    need to get people like Paine into the hands of students. But how
    do we do this? How do we get Martin Luther King, Jr. into the
    hands of the Afro-American community who are enfranchised by
    his work, yet little understand today what he was about?Rev Al
    may see voter suppression, but the masses in the Black community
    do not. With the costs of books inreasing how do we get these
    works into the hands of people who need them?

  3. Hello Uptheflag,
    I too have my copy of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and have had my daughter read it as I think that it is very important reading too.

    I agree that high school students should read Thomas Paine as his writings were the basics from which we came. Then of course there will still be those who say that it is just more liberal brainwashing of our students by the Teacher’s Unions.

    Right now I am researching and bring myself up to speed a book called, “Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government—and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead” by David Rothkopf Farrar, Straus & Giroux

    It is a warning of multinational businesses and the emblematic of a tectonic shift in international relations, in which global corporations today wield greater power than all but a handful of nation-states. In that sense, the book’s subtitle is misleading: The “epic rivalry” between Big Business and government isn’t a rivalry at all. It’s a rout!

    An example I would give that you may relate to is bottom line, who has more influences around the world, Multi-National Oil Companies or the regional states of the Gulf of Mexico?

    I think that it is a dire prediction warning that we as a nation, or most any other nation today, cannot stop their controlling influences.

    A Government of the Corporations, By the Corporations, and For the Corporations….So help me God….Amen.

    1. Engineer writes, I think that it is a dire prediction warning that we as a nation, or most any other nation today, cannot stop their controlling influences.

      Regarding the oil issue, it continually puzzles me [well, not really] why The People are not demanding green energy solutions here in the U.S. And the ‘drill baby, drill!’ nonsense chortled by the right-wing is just one more ignorant and meaningless bumper sticker slogan that prevents sensible solutions to this major problem facing our nation.

  4. Here is my point, M_R, about Paine. And, thank you, Engineer,
    for listing for listing “Power, Inc…”

    While Payne wrote in the 1770 to 1790 period, Farrar is writing
    today, roughly two hundred years apart. Yet, they both are saying
    something is terribly wrong with government as it is constructed.
    On the otherhand, M_R, you are reading religious tracts like Spong
    and the conservative mind like Kirk. I respectfully submit, M_R,
    that you are becoming two conservative in your approach You seem
    to be on a staid course, which is predicated on your posts and comments of only “venting” your disgust with the way things are.

    1. Interesting ‘conclusion,’ my friend. Perhaps you mistook my posts and comments and read into them something altogether different than my intent.

      First, I, too, believe that something is terribly wrong with government as it is constructed. How could a type of government which was formulated 230 years ago in an agrarian society with slavery and a limited and exclusive electorate work well in 2012? You and I have both questioned the wisdom of giving each state, regardless of population, two equal senators. You and I have both argued that the Electoral College ought to have gone out with the canal boats. And clearly we agree that the 112th Congress [and the 111th, 110th and 109th] is clearly dysfunctional and in no way serves The People any longer. It serves the lobbyists and the contributors to the re-election chests.

      The Founding Fathers were bright for the 18th century, but they were not visionaries to this highly technologically advanced 21st century. And an intricately interconnected world economy. And weapons of mass destruction.

      Yet we plod along ‘believing’ that a governance system which fit the horse and buggy would be just dandy for the Space Age. It is a far stretch of the imagination and a silly assumption at best.

      PART II

      You write, On the otherhand, M_R, you are reading religious tracts like Spong and the conservative mind like Kirk. I respectfully submit, M_R,
      that you are becoming too conservative in your approach

      I’m confused. Spong is so ‘far out’ into the future that he doesn’t even believe in Heaven [or Hell]. Nor the resurrection of Jesus. And he utterly disdains ‘religion.’ These are hardly the positions of a conservative. After all of the religious bull that you and I, my friend, absorbed during out 16 years in Catholic education facilities, Spong FREES my spirit and encourages me to wash away all of that BULL SHIT that we absorbed. Spong is the most liberating theologian I have ever read or heard. He and the bishop of Toledo are on opposite ends of the religious spectrum.

      I brought up Kirk to remind people that there is a quite legitimate political philosophy on the right side of that spectrum. The type of Conservatism as enunciated by Kirk and others [Burke] is a far-cry from what we see espoused by today’s so-called conservatives here in the U.S. These American conservatives [Tea Party and others] are closer to reactionary anarchists than classical conservatives. Not only that, but they are further corroded by racism, ethnicity, anti-immigration, religion and misogyny. In fact, this current group reminds me quite well of that ancient Jewish tribe wandering through the dusty plains of the middle east, fighting, smiting, conquering and hating most everyone else. But ‘god’ was on their side. Do you see that, too, UptheFlag?

      That’s why to me Spong and Kirk are purists while the Tea Party and the right-wing of the GOP as well as the Christian Church are insidious. That’s the connection I draw.

  5. “First, I, too, believe that something is terribly wrong with government as it is constructed.”
    True, but it seems like you have stopped right there. When
    I suggest term limits, electoral college reform, or an amendment
    calling for the Senate to be based on population, I am criticized
    for being idealistic. At least, I have been trying to put some
    suggestions out there. in electoral college reform, there is a
    movement to simply reform that process by each individual State,
    with no amending process required. Each State sets its electoral
    college, and a suggestion is to just let each State, choose their
    electoral college based on who wins the national popular vote for
    President. Any State could decide to do it that way; it is not
    unConstitutional. As it is now constructed, each State has two sets
    of electors usually, a Democrat pledge slate and a Republican pledge
    slate. A State could simply pass a law in its Legislature ending that
    method and pass a new one that says the electors of the State will cast their vote for the national popular vote winner. There would
    only be one slate. It does two things. First, it ensures a minority
    vote candidate will not become President. Second, it gives these
    States a more powerful position vis a vis the National Government.
    At least, it is doing something.

    Then, there was the suggestion about education reform. I believe that public education needs to be centered in Washington, not with
    hundreds of local school boards all across the country, plus 50 State
    Department of Educations. Just as in medicare, where federal
    tax receipts are given out to all religions and secularist doctors and
    hospitals, if education is nationalized, all education institutions
    that reach federal guidelines should be given funds to conduct
    Sure, I have a problem with private schools like Notre Dame Academy, St. John’s, and St. Francis having a tuition of $11,000
    plus for a year of education. Under no circumstances should they receive money to cover all that duplicated expense, but they
    should be underwritten to some degree as they are providing
    educational services. Home schooling ought to qualify as well.
    I put something out there, and receive negative comments.

    Then, there was my ongoing crusade for term limits and centered
    on Marcy Kaptur. If we can’t pass an amendment for term limits, then the only other way is a slow, imperfect process of voting all
    incumbants out of office. For all her negative votes on issues that you support, you had to support her because she is a Democrat. Even the other day, your wrote that the popular Kaptur won her
    primary against Kucinich. If you would compare their voting
    records, I think that you would see that Kucinich voted more often for positions that you support. Now, irregardless, I would vote against both of them. And, yes, I would probably vote for their GOP opponent. Ah! I hear it now. Heresy. Look, the system is broken
    and dysfunctional. Sometimes it is necessary to take one step
    backwards to take two steps forward. What did I get for suggesting
    this approach? “Yawn!” (lol). As Franklin said, “you have a
    republic, if you can keep it.” What are we going to do to “keep it”?
    Passing leaflets out door to door and being threatened with a knife
    is not my way of changing the system. If Latta is now in your
    District, you need to be leading the charge against him. You need
    to form a speakers’ agenda in all the senior schools, the colleges,
    the Service Clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, and organize dessert
    parties in the neighborhoods and call a spade a spade. In a
    previous recent post or comment you asked “what should be done?”
    There you have it……

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