I have never concealed the truth that I am a Trekkie. Additionally, I have never hidden my conviction that I am a traditionalist and a conservative in the way defined by Russell Kirk. While there are thematic and ideological elements worthy of criticism in the Star Trek worldview, there is much that can be redeemed. On the 60th anniversary of Russell Kirk’s magnum opus, The Conservative Mind, it is certainly worth the time and energy to revisit this essential reading. My reexamination of the key points in this most important work has been shaped recently, in part, by my rethinking of how much some of our current political, cultural, and social moment is reminiscent of the Borg.
While there is much for mind and soul in this volume, I would like to rethink the essence of conservatism, as discovered by Russell Kirk, and contrast it with collectivism and consumerism as an antidote to these contemporary toxins. No doubt many have been taken with Kirk’s examination of conservatism by simply understanding the six canons of conservatism he proposes. Before we look at these, it is worth remembering that at the heart of Kirk’s conservatism is the assertion that “The essence of social conservatism is preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity.”
Russell Kirk, “the benevolent sage of Mecosta,” does indeed serve us as a most worthy example and guide. From the true statesman Edmund Burke through the literary giant T.S. Eliot, to those who desire to know what authentic conservatism is and is not (as Kirk said, that in “a world that damns tradition, exalts equality, and welcomes change…”) the conservative mind must be made known. For those who may not know of the infamous Borg, their notorious reputation comes from their impulse to assimilate, by force, other species into their collective and compel them into “the hive mind.” The new collectivism that Kirk and others warned about is equivalent to a group think. All attempts to offer dissent from the collective are not tolerated.
Returning to Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, here is a summary (one must really savor Kirk’s fuller explication) of his six “canons of conservatism:”
- Belief in a transcendent order (not surprisingly, rooted in tradition, divine revelation, or natural law);
- Affection for the “variety and mystery” of human existence;
- Conviction that society requires orders and classes that emphasize “natural” distinctions;
- Persuasion that property and freedom are linked;
- Faith in custom, convention, and prescription; and
- Recognition that change may not be salutary reform and traditions as well as customs must be considered before political action is deemed prudential.
Add to the above six canons, Kirk’s five characteristics of “radicalism since 1790” and you get a sense of both the meaning of conservatism and its enemies.
- The perfectibility of man and the illimitable progress of society;
- Contempt for tradition;
- Political leveling;
- Economic leveling;
- Common radical view of the state’s function.
Without being reductionistic, one might be able to propose that the essential difference between the conservative mind and the radical (progressive) mind, is regarding givenness of what is. The conservative sees and embraces natural diversity and distinction and aspires to yield to what is. The radical, mocking the very notion of givenness, acts to construct a tower to the heavens and force everyone to join the project. Again, referencing the Borgs and comparing to the radicals, they insist on sameness.
While resistance to the modern political, cultural, and social Borg may be futile, it is imperative that all those who treasure the humane, must resist as long as possible and not give into the modern social construction of human reality.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This essay originally appeared at Musings of a Christian Humanist and is published here by the author’s permission.