Monday, September 26, 2005

Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, part 8

Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.

Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time. Therefore conservatives very often emphasize the importance of prescription—that is, of things established by immemorial usage, so that the mind of man runneth not to the contrary. There exist rights of which the chief sanction is their antiquity—including rights to property, often. Similarly, our morals are prescriptive in great part.

Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste. It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise, Burke declared. In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.


Now here's a principle with which I don't know that I agree. It's not so much that I disagree, it's just that I think there have been great and not-so-great people in every time. I don't underestimate the greatness of our forerunners, we've certainly had great thinkers and actors in our history. But we likewise have great thinkers and actors today.

This is, I suppose, similar to Kirk's earlier principle of observing Old Wisdom and, with both thoughts, I can see the validity of embracing that which has come before, but only after due reason and consideration have been given to the principles. I do not advocate blindly embracing tradition or its authors.

That's really all I have to say about that.

1 comment:

Kobayashi Maru said...

Well put, Dan! It's not that Burke et al deny great minds of today, it's just that living as we do in realtime, we tend to overestimate the value that any great mind may contribute as against the span of many many individuals over thousands of years of culture and tradition. And if you think about it, it makse sense: a man's productive adult life: 60 years (if he's lucky). The span of modern man's history: ~100 times that, and with empirical evidence (one way or the other) as to the merit of a man's ideas as played out in practice. It's even, if you think about it further, an extremely populist, meritocratic idea: only those ideas that stand the test of time and that emerge from the great sea of humanity get added to the pile. Passing elitist fads or grasps at immorality do not (in the main - with a gazillion exceptions). Burke's philosophy is the ultimate in intellectual humility.