Authoring Conservatism

“Conservatism”, as Russell Kirk observed in his book The Politics of Prudence (quoting from this book when unspecified), is the opposite of ideology. He defines ideology as “inverted religion, denying the Christian doctrine of salvation through grace in death, and substituting collective salvation here on earth through violent revolution.” This is opposed to conservatism, which again as Russell Kirk observes, “is the negation of ideology: it [conservatism] is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.” Professor Kirk then continues to lay down ten conservative principles, which I will quickly list for your convenience: (1) The conservative believes there exists an enduring moral order. (2) The Conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. “It is old custom that enables people to live together peaceably”. “Law at base is a body of conventions.” (This does not include the moral laws, as Kirk has already observed first that moral order endures outside of convention.) “Continuity is the means of linking generation to generation”. (3) [C]onservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription, “that is, of things established by immemorial usage, so that the mind of man runneth not to the contrary.” In short, we stand on the shoulders of those giants which have gone before us, and as this applies to reformed doctrine (stepping outside of Kirk’s meaning now), “new religion”, just as Kirk would agree “new politics” is another word for “false religion” and “false politics”. (4) Conservatives are guided by their principal of prudence. “The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences.” (5) Conservatives pay attention to the principal of variety. Mankind will continue to exist with different forms and levels of material wealth and modes of life, or differing classes, as Holy Scripture notes that the poor will always be among us. Again as Kirk observes, “Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.” (6) Conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. In this realm of the sinful heart of man, I find John Calvin’s principle of Total Depravity to be of more accuracy and help: “I have said that all parts of the soul were possessed by sin after Adam deserted the fountain of righteousness.” (7) Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. “Getting and spending are not the chief aims of human existence; but a sound economic basis for the person, the family, and the commonwealth is much to be desired.” (8) Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. “In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.” This does not negate state or federal government, but local community is at the heart of every conservative. Think local, for that is where geographically you have been planted; “a nation is no stronger than the numerous little communities of which it is composed.” (9) The conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. Kirk observes that a small group exerting power without check on others’ wills is despotism, whereas every individual claiming all power unto himself is anarchy. Neither allows for healthy society. Rather, “Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite – these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order.” (10) The thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. Healthy society is influenced by Permanence and Progression: Permanence being “those enduring interests that gives us stability and continuity”, and Progression being “that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement”.

Such is conservatism as Kirk observes, and though the professor’s doctrines of the faith I find to be misleading, the above political principles applied to the heart of a theologically reformed man would bring with it healthy and peaceful society. It contains those family values and Christian virtues that bring the sweet innocence of everyday living, the family unit at peace among themselves, bringing families working together to bring community, with the gospel at the center. It is the enjoyment of things simple, and not the scoffing of that which is virtuous, as Philippians 4:8 observes, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

I am a post-millennialist, which means that I believe the gospel is actively changing society for the good as the Lord justifies souls through the redemptive work of Christ, and this progress of the gospel will continue until all the nations are subdued under the mighty feet of Christ (Psalm 110:1). As such, Jesus is now reigning over the world and using the church to crush the evil one (Romans 16:20), and He shall not return until those nations are subdued, until a time when we shall not have to teach our neighbor or our brother to know the Lord anymore, for they all shall know Him (Jeremiah 31:34). Therefore, let us be about His business to shine that light in each our own communities, reforming them and being a witness of that light in the simple and innocent things, for the work of Christ shall surely continue, ushering His kingdom in, whether we conform to that work or attempt to push against it. Yet greater will be our hope, joy, and yes, even reward, the more our minds are about the business of His kingdom, for on that Last Day, the dross will be burned away to show those works in Christ which stand.

~Joshua A. Reynolds