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.