Conservatism is not properly an ideology — it does not advocate, per se, for a government system, a hierarchy, or an economic and monetary system. It is more basic than that. It is a set of interrelated principles that argue for a style of governance. Our own Robert A Hahn, in his comment for the ages, described it in a single word: humility. Conservatism is very much a condition of the heart.
If there was ever a time that the folly of governmental arrogance was abundantly evident, that time is now. I doubt I need to elaborate. The justification for conservatism, for humility in governance could not be more obvious, and its adherence more desperately needed, than right this moment. We must act, and soon, while we still have something to save. But we must also think, ponder, consider, and make conservatism the nature of our hearts, so that when we act, we act with laser-guided wisdom.
Today we tackle Russell Kirk’s fourth of his Ten Conservative Principles. Let me say right here that in my studies of conservative history, I am persuaded by the gentle but unyieldingly God-based conservatism preached by Russell Kirk and his mentor across time, Edmund Burke. If you want your conservatism without a moral context, then feel free to move along. No offense intended, but this discussion, and I dare say, Kirkian-Burkean style conservatism, ain’t for you. Proceed to the libertarian aisle or the neocon aisle as you see fit.
Kirk’s 4th 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.
A quick review of where we are so far (see the Fredhead archives here):
Russell Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles
- First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. [human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent]
- Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. [custom enables people to live together peaceably: the destroyers of custom demolish more than they know or desire]
- Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.[why re-invent the wheel every time: look to the wisdom of the ages]
- Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence [act, having weighed the consequences]
History has not suffered fools kindly
It seems axiomatic to the point of saying that water is wet. Rash or ill-considered acts are a Bad Thing™. And yet history is littered with hordes of examples – swarms, myriads, galaxies of examples – of governmental deeds gone horribly awry. Many were utterly predictable; had the players acted with basic intelligent consideration, they would have avoided disaster for themselves and their charges. To name a handful:
- “Peace In Our Time”
- Bay of Pigs
- Napoleon’s invasion of Russia
- Varro charging the soft middle against Hannibal at Cannae
- King George’s Stamp Act
In all of these cases [and literally thousands more], all that was required was somebody paying attention to the consequences of their actions. Failure to manage that resulted in ……..well….. failure.
Why is prudence an important conservative trait?
Pay attention, this is complicated. Ready? Rash, short-sighted action is not conducive to successfully meeting goals. Got it? Good, I’m very proud of you.
We want to govern in a way that results in the maximum freedom of a people, applying government, military, law, and order to defend those freedoms only as needed. We must pass laws, repeal laws, and act in ways that actually accomplish what we want. When we act in a knee-jerk reactionary way in order to “fix some problem”, without considering the consequences at length, we get stupid and hurtful things like McCain-Feingold, the Department of Homeland Security, the War on Drugs, and the AIG bailout [notice I’m citing only Republican stupidities, not the willful evil deeds of the Democrats].
Is prudence a peculiarly conservative characteristic?
Mmmm, I struggle with this. No, it’s not. Both left and right have their idiots, but it is incorrect to say that Marxists do not act with the long-term future in mind. They absolutely know what they are doing, and they are positively evil for doing it. Obama is alot of things, idiot, arrogant gasbag, jacobin among them. But he’s on a mission, and he’s been devastatingly successful so far. His Marxist, Alinskyite machine has in barely 2 months wreaked phenomenal havoc on our freedoms, our future, and our finance system. They are setting their sights on much more in the near future with card check bringing union thuggery to every corner of the marketplace, election stealing to secure their hold on power, and fully taking over the medical sector. It’s not an accident, it’s part of a plan.
One might argue farther that in the truly long view, leftism, having won the political war and allowed to run its course, causes eventual terrible ruin for the entire system. Therefore, is that truly prudence? I would not dispute that point. In fact, we fight the war against leftism for that very reason, to save the republic from the left.
So EPU, what does governing prudence look like in the wild?
It’s probably a bit trite (but only a bit) to say that prudence, conservative style, looks like everything Fred Thompson says. Facing a nigh-unstoppable Democrat majority in both houses, a Marxist-Alinskyite president, and a hostile bureaucracy makes it difficult for Republicans to introduce any sensible, prudent behavior into the system. So under the circumstances, the only prudent course is to basically obstruct, filibuster, and parliamentary-parlor-game practically EVERYTHING.
But let’s say, on local and state levels, what does prudent governance look like? At the moment I would say that there has been such stupidity going on for decades, that the most immediately useful and prudent thing would be to start undoing a wealth of currently stupid things that could only be measured in tonnage. Just for starters:
- Ditch state lotteries — I amuse myself by calling it a tax on the stupid, which it is. But it’s also a tax on the people who can least afford it – the poor and the poorly educated. Long-term consequences? More poverty.
- Get out of the public school business — let them be privatized, they are nothing but leftist indoctrination camps anymore, that scarcely bother with the 3 R’s. Let the free market work by rewarding excellence, diversifying, and providing apprenticeship opportunities as the market dictates.
- Knock off the smoking bans — does this really require discussion? The Nazis are running amok with this.
- Commit the legislature to thinning out the code book — Start repealing laws, closing entire bureaus and departments. Start reducing the page count of both regs and state laws by 10% every year, or some such.
- Deregulate everything that is practical to deregulate — let people have some freedom, especially small businesses that spend an obscene amount of their time complying with boatloads of silly and onerous regulations.
- Tort reform — Start with ‘loser pays’, follow up with caps on damages. Part of me says to start shooting lawyers…….
- Get conservatives elected to school boards– unless you’ve personally come up against them, you have no idea how school boards even in red areas are totally OWNED by the leftist movement. And a whole lot of people who consider themselves conservatives get on school boards and start acting like control-freak Nazis.
I’m sure there’s plenty more ways to show govenmental prudence on a state and local level. Feel free to chime in with your ideas.