Thursday, September 22, 2005

Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, part 10

Recently, and despite many heated discussions with conservatives, it has occurred to me that I'm not really all that sure I disagree with conservative principles. The more I think about it, the more I think it's a matter of me believing in some conservative principles more than the conservatives.

In an effort to explore this thought, I've looked up a reference given by one of my conservative friends: Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, which are cited by some as being a fairly good outline of what conservatives believe. They are listed below:

Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles

1. An enduring moral order
2. Custom, convention, and continuity
3. Standing on the shoulders of giants
4. Prudence is chief among virtues
5. The preservation of differences
6. Resisting the utopian and anarchic impulse
7. Freedom and private property are related
8. Voluntary community vs. involuntary collectivism
9. Power and passion require restraint
10. Permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled

Now, each of these have some explanation from Kirk. I thought I'd tackle each item individually for discussion and consideration. I'll begin with the first.

Kirk says, "
First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for people, and people are made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent... 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."

So far, so good. I don't know that many progressives would disagree with this notion as stated. We do indeed believe in Moral Truths. Right and wrong. Yes, I know that there are genuine moral relativists out there, but I think that they are a minority. Otherwise, you wouldn't have so many people up in arms (so to speak) about the immorality of the Iraq Invasion. We believe it is wrong because we do believe in right and wrong.

Further, I could make a case that the Iraq War supporters are the moral relativists, in that they are saying sometimes it is okay to kill innocent people and sometimes it's not. Whereas I'm saying that it is always wrong to kill innocents. I ask you: Who's the relativist in that scenario: Me or the war-supporter?

NOTE: I'm not really wanting to get back in to the war debate, we've already done that here and here, among other places. I'm just using that as an example of moral relativism on the part of those on the Right.

All of that to say that I basically agree with this Principle and that I think many progressives would, as well. At least as much as conservatives do. The one place where I'd expand his definition is that all social questions are questions of private and corporate morality.

Right? Wrong?


Constantine said...


Nice outline for encouraging a robust conversation! I look forward to reading thoughts and opinions from your diverse audience and participating myself. After these Principles are discussed, it would be interesting to do the same for “Liberal” Principles (assuming any exist in a coherent and structured form like Kirk’s).

I too agree with Principle One when construed in a more broad or general fashion vs. specific or narrow. I wouldn't want anything specific like what the current "religious-right" wants in terms of government etc., i.e. basically a Protestant-Evangelical understanding of Theocracy, but when "moral order" is understood from a more "Natural Law" philosophy or perspective, I'd say there's value and truth in yielding to these inherent “laws.” Now, "Natural Law," is a predominately Roman Catholic notion finding its origins in Scholastic thought--i.e. Aquinas, and I wouldn't take it anywhere near as far as the Church of Rome does, but I think there is something to be said for the "moral order" or God inspired and intrinsic "conscience" that helps to guide and facilitate and foster civilization.

I'd also agree with you DT that the Conservative adherent of today is very likely to be inconsistent applying Principle One and would probably want to define it more specifically, dare I say “biblically,” as they would understand it.

Son of Lilith said...

Right. I find myself agreeing with conservatives many times, but we arrive at our conclusions differently and also sometimes we agree on "landscape" but not "detail" issues.

Son of Lilith said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Eleutheros said...

"Further, I could make a case that the Iraq War supporters are the moral relativists, in that they are saying sometimes it is okay to kill innocent people and sometimes it's not. Whereas I'm saying that it is always wrong to kill innocents. I ask you: Who's the relativist in that scenario: Me or the war-supporter?"

In that case the moral relativist would be you, Dan. To wit: it's OK if innocents die so long as I didn't have anything to do with it directly. It is kin to the relativism involved in 'I'm too kind hearted to ever harm an animal so I will go to Taco Bell instead where I will cause someone else to harm animals on my behalf.'

The rate of innocents dying in Iraq was far greater before the invasion by the west and promised to continue indefinately. Tens of thousands of innocents died when Saddam drained the marsh areas to make sure the marsh Arabs could not conspire against him and when he gassed and bombed the Kurds. Whatever the real motivation for the war, it has stopped that killing.

The stand that killing innocents is always wrong seems in reality to be: it's only wrong if I have to be bothered with it in some way. But if someone else is doing it because of my inaction, then it's OK.

Seems to me to be the epitome of relativism.

If the response to the this would be "It's not OK that Saddam was killing innocents, but someone somewhere has to stop doing it", then the conservative view would be, "It is not OK that innocents died in the invasion, but someone somewhere has to stop those who are intentionally targeting innocents."

Dan Trabue said...


It would be relativism ONLY if I advocated doing nothing and letting folk die, which is not the case. That is, I believe it is wrong to kill innocents and believe steps ought to be in place to stop it that don't involve US killing innocents, which is wrong.

Not relativism.

But nice try.

Also, I'd really like to try to keep this on the Conservative Principles and whether or not Conservatives and/or Progressives agree with them. So, if you want to comment on the above, using the Iraq War as an example, OK. But let's not go down the road of War-making vs. Pacifism again, except as it relates to the topic.


Eleutheros said...

Hey, Dan, it was you who brought it up directly in the form of a question. I took you for an honest fellow who wanted it answered.

Dan Trabue said...

Fair enough.

Kobayashi Maru said...

Good post, Dan. I'm struggling however, to come up with an example or a profile of someone (other than Jesus) who is not - in some fashion - a moral relativist. The classic case is a burglar breaking into your house and threatening your wife or children. You have the power to stop it, but only at the cost of the burglar's health and/or life. What do you do? (Rhetorical question.)

Same with Iraq: i.e., risk of Americans dying in a possible WMD attack (now shown to be just a little on the exaggerated side but we didn't know that as well as we do now at the time) and/or of more Iraqis dying horrible torturous deaths at the hands of Baathists... All as against blood on our hands to mitigate those risks of future death. Yeah, it's relative. Does it conform to an enduring set of moral norms? I think it does. Those include forestalling potential mass violence if it is within your power to do so and not turning our backs on innocents. And therein lies the conflict: between not doing anything and innocents dying and doing something and innocents dying. Alas, we're forced here on earth to tally up numbers and make estimates with inadequate information. In heaven, I pray that it will not be so, and that we will have the courage and knowledge to effect peace with peace.

NoTONoEagles said...

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