conservative mind posterby W. Winston Elliott III

There is still time to sign up for this Saturday’s conference celebrating the 60th anniversary of the publication of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. The program is being held at Houston Baptist University. Speakers include The Imaginative Conservative‘s Bradley J. Birzer, Gleaves Whitney, W. Winston Elliott III and Barbara J. Elliott. Please use the “Register” link on the top of this page. Click on the poster to see the enlarged version for details.

“The Conservative Mind describes a cast of intellect or a type of character, an inclination to cherish the permanent things in human existence. On many prudential questions, and on some general principles, conservatives may disagree from time to time among themselves; so this hook offers a certain diversity of opinions. Yet the folk called “conservative” join in resistance to the destruction of old patterns of life, damage to the footings of the civil social order, and reduction of human striving to material production and consumption.

The book distinctly does not supply its readers with a “conservative ideology”: for the conservative abhors all forms of ideology. An abstract rigorous set of political dogmata: that is ideology, a “political religion,” promising the Terrestrial Paradise to the faithful; and ordinarily that paradise is to be taken by storm. Such a priori designs for perfecting human nature and society are anathema to the conservative, who knows them for the tools and the weapons of coffeehouse fanatics.

For the conservative, custom, convention, constitution, and prescription are the sources of a tolerable civil social order. Men not being angels, a terrestrial paradise cannot be contrived by metaphysical enthusiasts; yet an earthly hell can be arranged readily enough by ideologues of one stamp or another. Precisely that has come to pass in a great part of the world, during the twentieth century.

To general principles in politics-as distinguished from fanatic ideological dogmata-the conservative subscribes. These are principles arrived at by convention and compromise, for the most part, and tested by long experience. Yet these general principles must be applied variously and with prudence, humankind’s circumstances differing much from land to land or age to age. The conservative refuses to accept utopian politics as a substitute for religion. (In Eric Voegelin’s phrase, the ideologue immanentizes the religious symbols of transcendence.) The Conservative Mind in part treats of such general principles; but it does not point the way to Zion.

This book, then, is an historical analysis of a mode of regarding the civil social order; it is no manual for partisan action. To define the terms “conservative” and “conservatism” by reference to the opinions and actions of certain important writers and public men; to apprehend the conservatives’ principles of moral and social order-such are the limited ends of The Conservative Mind.”

From Russell Kirk’s introduction to The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot (Kindle Locations 215-227). Kindle Edition.

All comments are moderated and must be civil, concise, and constructive to the conversation. Comments that are critical of an essay may be approved, but comments containing ad hominem criticism of the author will not be published. Also, comments containing web links or block quotations are unlikely to be approved. Keep in mind that essays represent the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Imaginative Conservative or its editor or publisher.

Leave a Comment
Print Friendly, PDF & Email