Thursday, September 29, 2005

Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, part 7

I continue my series in which I embrace Conservative Philosophy (and reject the notion that modern conservatives, are), presenting Kirk's Fourth Principle:

Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.


“Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences...” Does this sound like modern conservative thought? In warning about global warning, many scientists are deeply embracing this point – saying, “We don't know for sure what the outcomes will be for our current lifestyle. There is evidence it could be greatly detrimental. It would make sense, therefore, to change our policy until we know that it is a prudent way to live.”

And, very promptly, those same scientists are rebuffed and ridiculed by conservatives for being prudent.

When the Peacemakers were advocating caution instead of invading Iraq, were we not being prudent? Were we not asking, “What are the consequences of setting pre-emptive invasion as a precedent? Of invading a country that poses no threat to us?”

It seems very clear to me that, at least in the fields of foreign and environmental policies, the progressives are the prudent ones. I think we'd be considered the more prudent in economic matters, too. Think of Wendell Berry's or Lester Brown's writings encouraging us to consider the economy a subset of the environment instead of the other way around. They've both written very responsible and well-thought-out essays on the matter.

Yes, I certainly agree strongly with this Conservative Principle.


Altoid said...

Pretty insightful; I believe that conservatives think that democrats power comes from entitlements (a view which I reject) so they have compromised every thing they might have actually believed in to try and gain political round. I am thoroughly impressed, good blog.

Dan Trabue said...

You may be right, that Republicans are not so much conservatives as political machines (not unlike many Democrats).

Thanks, and welcome to Payne Hollow.

Eleutheros said...


1) There are those who would say to your comment (I'm not necessarily one of them, mind) that the invasion was not a rush but the culmination of seventeen years of taking it slowly and cautiously.

2) I doubt you want to start a global warming sidebar, that not being the point of this series per se. But this: We have a local talk show whose host spends half of each show decrying the effects of mercury in vaccines. We now here abouts refer to it as the "All Merisol" channel. He had Bill Frist on as a guest and asked what steps Frist was pushing to make sure we eliminated the autism and other things caused by Merisol. Frist, by the bye, is a physician and answered quite frankly that the there was no evidence whatever that merisol caused anything. I've read all the evidence and the facts are hugely in favor of Frist's point of view. The host babbled incoherently unable to believe that EVERYONE couldn't see that the problem was as plain as day and ALL experts agreed on it.

Global warming is just like that. I've read the evidence of it very, very closely and the notion that it is caused by human activity is not supportable, at worst it's not conclusive.

Most of your contributers here don't seem to be old enough to remember in the late 60's and early 70's that the great hue and cry was global cooling!

I inject this here to show that this one issue isn't a matter of a recognized problem whose remedy is being approached cautiously (as Iraq) but that we haven't got a concensus yet over whether there's a problem to be addressed at all and whether there's anything we could do about it if we wanted to.

3) It's good that you see that you agree with much of the conservative ideal but not with the way conservatives put that into practice (or fail to). You will find that most conservatives have exactly the same view of a liberal manifesto. They find themselves agreeing with the principles but NOT in what the liberals actually do and actually accomplish.

Kobayashi Maru said...

Dan, you've got your conservative theory down but you're applying it precisely backwards. 180 degrees... could not be more wrong. Let's take global warming first, because: 1) you've got it the most backward, 2) I'm sick of arguing about the conclusion of a twelve-year war after as many or more UN Security Council resolutions (would twenty years of rape and torture of innocents and uncertainty on WMD have been more prudent?), and 3) I know a lot more about the topic having majored in geology and environmental studies with an emphasis on paleontology and paleoclimates:

Global warming is a fact. So is global cooling. They've been going on since the beginning of time. Stasis (the goal, it seems of much of the global warming brouhaha) is an illusion. It is also the ultimate hubris. (More on that in a moment.)

The data that we have that's reasonably comprehensive (e.g., from satellites) is laughably short in terms of geologic time (and even human time, for that matter). It's also conflicted (e.g. upper vs. lower atmosphere vs. different regions and levls within the oceans)

The data that even starts to be deep longitudinally (and ice cores are still not all that deep at a few thousand years max) is spotty at best. That's to say nothing of the connection to human activity, much less whether we can do anything by changing said activity, much less whether it would be worth it if we did.

I don't know your background or age, so you may not be aware that the big topic in academic circles when I was studying this stuff in the '80s was catastrophic global *cooling*. It was virtually the consensus, as global warming is now - a way to get papers published.

So explain to me how spending trillions of dollars (something you expressed concern about on my blog relative to transportation) on something that's got six layers of uncertainty, poor data and massive complexity to it is prudent? Especially when the folks who came up with this theory in the first place say we can't change anything anyway? For some monetary calculations on this see:

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks, all. I'll try to get to some of your comments soon.

And you're right E. I don't really want to use this medium to debate Global Warming.

As I've said elsewhere, there are plenty of reasons for changing our lifestyle. to my mind, GW is one of them, but there are other less debatable.

Specifically, we're living in an unsustainable manner.

Briefly, humanity lived for thousands of years living off the land in ways that were usually sustainable (having smaller numbers of humanity helped).

But suddenly, in the last 70 years, we've changed the ways we've done things. We've converted to a culture utterly dependent upon fossil fuels. Dependent like a junkie. We get the cold shakes just talking about not having fossil fuels.

The move to a petrochemical society was not well-considered, we just sort of morphed to it without thinking about it and certainly without voting on it.

This is the lack of judgement and prudence that Kirk is exactly right on. We've rushed in to a change in our lifestyle and its implications weren't well thought out.

We need to think them out now.

Sorry out of time.

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