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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Russell Kirk: Ten Conservative Principles Part 1 -- The Moral Order

In this post we'll take a look at the first three of Kirk's "conservative principles" and how they correspond to Catholic truth.

1. First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. For a Catholic this is pretty much an a priori point. We know there's a difference between right and wrong and that truth exists and doesn't change with the seasons. God created us in His image and likeness and embedded in our nature a moral understanding that enables us to recognize the truths of the Ten Commandments. He also revealed himself throughout history, first through His people Israel and then, in the fullness of time, through His Son, Jesus Christ. So Kirk's first principle corresponds well to Catholic teaching. Kirk elaborates saying, "A society in which men and women are governed by a belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society -- whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society -- no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal consitution may be." As our own culture abandons the moral order we prove exactly what Kirk is talking about. Divorce, homosexual indoctrination in the schools and workplace, the murder of the innocent, etc. are contributing to societal freefall. Consider the violence in our cities the movement from abortion to infanticide and euthanasia, etc. We are reaping cultural chaos by our abandonment of moral principles.

2. Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. We can compare this to Catholic tradition. Man doesn't have to constantly reinvent the wheel. A culture that appreciates social conventions, for example courtesy, is a well-ordered society. Hillaire Belloc illustrated that in a poem saying, "The grace of God is in courtesy." Catholic conventions such as genuflecting before the tabernacle, making the sign of the cross with holy water on entering a church, etc. are meaningful reminders of who we are as a people. Kirk isn't a slave to convention; rather he stresses Edmund Burke's opinion saying, "The continuity, the life-blood of society must not be interrupted. Burke's reminder of the necessity for prudent change is in the mind of the conservative. But necessary change, conservatives argue, ought to be gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once." Consider what happened in the Church after Vatican II for an illustration of the damage caused by precipitous and mindless change. The disastrous experiments with the liturgy, the stripping and wreckovation of the churches, persecution of the faithful who continued to kneel for Communion, etc. all damaged the faith. Had the bishops of the world followed Kirk's principle things might be very different in the Church today.

3. Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription. Kirk's third principle follows naturally from the second. Prescription means that some things are established by their "immemorial usage...There exist rights of which the chief sanction is their antiquity." Kirk refers to things like rights of property. Catholics might think of doctrines taught consistently for thousands of years and liturgical norms as well. Contraception is one example. The Church's consistent and unchanging teaching was upheld by Pope Paul VI through Humanae Vitae. As science develops ever more invasive reproductive technologies, the common sense of the encyclical is more and more obvious. As for liturgical norms, the recognition of the Latin Mass and the statement that it was never abrogated shows how foolish and mean-spirited the attempts to crush it were.

1 comment:

Ray Schneider said...

Russell Kirk in person was very ideosyncratic -- reminded me of Chesterton and it would not surprise me if it was an intentional affectation.
When I met him (an exaggeration, sort of shook his hand and said I'd enjoyed some of his books, a reception line sort of thing) he wore a cape and a sort of great coat and reminded me a little of a sort of academic monk. He was one of the inspirations for that particular conference (on the Shroud of Turin) which is the only time I ever saw all the sides of the shroud world at a single conference -- Joe Nickells and Walter McCrone were both there as were the stellar lights of the shroud world at the time, John Jackson, Eric Jumper, Paul Maloney, my favorite shroud personality of all time Alan Adler and so on ...

I have not read all that much of Kirk -- probably should do that. I know he was quite the inspiration for much of the Conservative movement.
Regards, Ray