Russell Kirk’s Fourth Conservative Principle: Prudence

As we move ahead with the Fourth of The Ten Conservative Principles of Russell Kirk, I want to take a quick step back to remind myself and all of you that these Principles need to be considered all together. Certainly they have a great deal of wisdom and value individually, but when we consider conservatism as a whole, it is not just about custom or prescription. It is about the network that is created when all of these Principles interact. Therefore, I hope that, even though we all looking at them individually, you will take a step back and consider the worldview that is created when all of them work with each other. With that, we will now consider the Fourth Principle.

Kirk writes:

Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.

Consequences matter. As we know from Richard Weaver, ideas have consequences. The conservative seeks to largely understand those consequences prior to acting. While recognizing that some things simply cannot be anticipated, there is wisdom in taking a step back to take a deep look at any important decision. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, changing to solve one problem creates an even greater problem. All steps should be taken to avoid undesirable consequences.

Does this mean that the conservative falls into paralysis, never moving whatsoever? Certainly not. There is a time to act. However, that time comes after a time to reflect. That is one of the biggest misconceptions about conservatives in my opinion. Conservatism is not static, but it is cautious. There is a big difference. There are people who would like you to think that conservatives refuse any and all change no matter how noble the cause. That’s just untrue. Rather, they just take a second to contemplate. Some decisions are easy, and some decisions are much more complex. However, the principle of prudence dictates that major dilemmas are faced with the consideration they deserve.

Alternatively, there are some people who see a problem and jump to the most obvious solution. There is a legitimate healthcare crisis in America right now. For some people, the most obvious answer is that the government should provide socialized healthcare for all. It seems quite clear to these people that the way to help people who don’t have healthcare is to guarantee that they will have it. It identifies the problem directly and proposes a specific solution that addresses the problem.

The prudent conservative takes a deep breath before solving the problem in this way. What are the potential problems with socialized healthcare? It certainly solves one problem since everyone would hypothetically have access to health insurance, but what negative impacts might it have on the consumer, medical professionals or society at large? The problems with socialized medicine have been well documented. The conservative doesn’t just look at the one problem of health insurance access in isolation. It is a problem, but it must be viewed as part of a larger discussion. The conservative steps back and tries to evaluate the situation as comprehensively as possible.

Prudence guides the day. Rushing to solve a problem in the seemingly most obvious way may not be the best way. Sometimes it will be, and sometimes it will not be, but prudence is key. If conservatives are not reflective, then perhaps they are not all that conservative to begin with.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the remainder of the series.

Russell Kirk’s First Conservative Principle: An Enduring Moral Order

Russell Kirk’s Second Conservative Principle: Custom, Convention, and Continuity

Russell Kirk’s Third Conservative Principle: Prescription

Russell Kirk’s Fourth Conservative Principle: Prudence

Russell Kirk’s Fifth Conservative Principle: Variety

Russell Kirk’s Sixth Conservative Principle: Imperfectability

Russell Kirk’s Seventh Conservative Principle: Freedom and Property Are Closely Linked

Russell Kirk’s Eighth Conservative Principle: Voluntary Community

Russell Kirk’s Ninth Conservative Principle: Restraints upon Power and upon Human Passions

Russell Kirk’s Tenth Conservative Principle: Permanence and Change


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