Monday, May 16, 2005
Russell Kirk (1918-1994)
Russell Kirk was a political theorist and author of the wildly influential book The Conservative Mind (1953). In that book he codified six cannons of conservatism which have acted as guiding definitions of conservative thought now for over a half century.
Kirk was a very popular essayist and columnist for the National Review for 20 years. Here are his cannons taken from The Conservative Mind:
(1) Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.
(2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems: conservatives resist what Robert Graves calls “Logicalism” in society.
(3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes as against the notion of a “classless society.”
(4) Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all.
(5) Faith in prescription, and distrust of “sophisters, calculators, and economists” who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man’s anarchic impulse and upon the innovator’s lust for power.
(6) Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.
One can see the influence of Burke in these cannons; indeed Kirk was a strong adherent of Burke, and is credited with bringing Burkian ideas back into the lexicon of modern conservatives.