Conservatives, Conserving the Constancies; What are They?

Conservatives, Conserving the Constancies; What are They?

There exists a distinct difference between:

Shepherds and hirelings

Statesmen and statists

Representatives and delegates

One is not born perfectly virtuous.

Acquiring a virtuous palette for what is right, true, noble, good, honest, just, beautiful, pure and praiseworthy must be developed.

Just as one develops taste buds and olfactory distinctions to appreciate specific nuances of fine wine or to distinguish the delicate, subtle characteristics of herbs; one must undergo cultivation in the development of virtue.

Human beings must be taught to Want the Right things.

The masses of half-educated citizens driven by sensual and material passions, stampeding down a path to hedonism and subsequent anarchy emphasize the observations of Statesman Edmund Burke centuries ago following the French Revolution.

Burke, as he regarded humanity swarming like bees into and out of their hives of industry, is ever asking himself,

“How are these men to be saved from anarchy?”

Birrell in Obiter Dicta page 188-189 

Good question. Many of us are asking the very same question.

This highlights some distinctions in the contrasts between shepherds and hirelings; statesmen and statists; and representatives and delegates.

Burke said the constitution of England is to exist to ensure the protection of Englishmen in all walks of life; their liberties, their equality in the eyes of justice, their opportunity to live with decency.

In the government of the English nation, the people participated through their representatives—not delegates. These representatives were elected from the ancient bodies of the nation, rather than from an amorphous mass of subjects. As Russell Kirk notes:

“In good government, the object of voting is not to enable every man to express his ego,

But to represent his interest,

Whether or not he casts the vote personally or directly.”* 

Interesting. Sheep need a Shepherd to act in their best interests to protect them, lead them and teach them where the good pasture and pure waters flow; not just a hireling that will run when the wolves come, be sleeping in the shade as the flock: naively gorges themselves, falls into the ditch, or suffers foot rot.

How do we recognize a conservative shepherd to be our “representative”?

How do recognize if we are “a conservative”? 

Russell Kirk summarizes some foundational constancies of conservatives in his excellent work The Conservative Mind. (See how these resonate with your principles)

“…. the essence of social conservatism is preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity.

Conservatives respect the wisdom of their ancestors; they are dubious of wholesale alteration. They think society is a spiritual reality, possessing an eternal life but a delicate constitution: it cannot be scrapped and recast as if it were a machine….

I think that there are six canons of conservative thought~ 

  1. Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead.

Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.

A narrow rationality, what Coleridge calls the Understanding, cannot of itself satisfy human needs. “Every Tory is a realist,” says Keith Feiling: “he knows that there are great forces in heaven and earth that man’s philosophy cannot plumb or fathom.

We do wrong to deny it, when we are told that we do not trust human reason:

We do not and we may not.

Human reason set up a cross on Calvary, human reason set up the cup of hemlock, human reason was canonized in Notre Dame.” Politics is the art of apprehending and applying the Justice which is above nature.

2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and equalitarianism and utilitarian aims of most radical systems. This is why Quinton Hogg and R.J. White describe conservatism as “enjoyment.” It is buoyant view of life which Walter Bagehot called “the proper source of an animated Conservatism.”

3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes. The only true equality is moral equality; all other attempts at leveling lead to despair, if enforced by positive legislation. Society longs for leadership, and if a people destroy natural distinctions among men, presently Buonaparte fills the vacuum.

4. Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress. Separate property from private possession, and liberty is erased.

5. Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophisters and calculators.” Man must put a control upon his will and his appetite, for conservatives know man to be governed more by emotion than by reason. Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man’s anarchic impulse.

6. Recognition that change and reform are not identical, and that innovation is a devouring conflagration more often than it is a torch of progress.

Society must alter, for slow change is the means of its conservation like the human body’s perpetual renewal; but Providence is the proper instrument for change, and the test of a Statesman is his cognizance of the real tendency of Providential social forces.”**

These are profound insights on the constancies that have anchored conservative thought for centuries. Yet, the explicit summation and communication of them has been largely ignored for the last century in American education, media, and citizenship preparation for self-governing people.

Citizens ought to possess the abilities to discern those who would be virtuous shepherds.

In order for citizens to select virtuous shepherds, they must:

Know what to want

Recognize what is “virtuous” (right, true, honest, just, good, beautiful….)

And be able to identify these qualities in potential statesmen.

The tendency for an elected despotism in the United States has also been conspicuously omitted from public education this last century. This truth loomed very real in the eyes of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, and the Founders.

“All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating [of] these in the same hand is precisely the definition of despotic government.

It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one.

One hundred seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one.

Let those who doubt it turn their eyes upon Venice.

As little it will avail us that they are chosen by ourselves.

An electorate despotism was not the government that we fought for,

But one which should not only be founded upon free principles,

But in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.”

Thomas Jefferson 1784, Notes on the State of Virginia, “Query XIII: Constitution” 

“Say…. whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government,

Or information to the people.

This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government.

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people.

Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them.

And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this.

They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

~Thomas Jefferson

The sources of the crises in our nation today, lie not merely in the elected politician despots and connected centralizing planners. The fault lies in the citizens who have failed to want the right things; failed to teach their children to want the right things; failed to elect virtuous representatives, and failed to keep themselves vigilant, and virtuous.

We are all guilty.

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

~John Adams 

It is high Time to Choose the right—to understand and defend the principles of Liberty.

And to humbly acknowledge Who grants Liberty to men. 

“Where The Spirit of The LORD is there is Liberty.”

2 Corinthians 3:17


*,** Russell Kirk in The Conservative Mind

The Constitutional Reader, edited by the Hillsdale College Politics Faculty




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