Russell Kirk’s Fifth Conservative Principle: Variety

As we hit the halfway point of The Ten Conservative Principles of Russell Kirk, we are going to celebrate the human race.

Kirk writes:

Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.

The human race is really pretty remarkable when you think about it. There are billions of people around the world, and we are all a little bit different. Some of us have similar looks, passions, interests, abilities and talents, but we are all unique.

The conservative sees this variety and automatically affirms human dignity first and foremost. As a human, you are endowed by your Creator with, among other rights, dignity. We all stand equal before God, and Kirk points out that we should stand equal before a court of law. Beyond that, we are much more substantially defined by our differences than we are by our similarities. We display remarkable variety.

The conservative celebrates this variety. The conservative recognizes that any type of social programming that tries to guarantee equality of outcome is problematic. Beyond just the economic context of equality of outcome versus equality of opportunity, consider two children in a classroom. One may be particularly gifted in mathematics, and the other might be especially gifted in writing. They are fundamentally and naturally unequal. The conservative celebrates that and encourages each one to use the gifts that he or she has been given for the betterment of society.

There is a propensity on the left to try to level everyone out. Our first hypothetical child simply might not be good at writing while the second might struggle with mathematics. Either one is simply not capable of achieving the advanced level that the other thrives in. Therefore, to try to pursue this goal of equality at all costs, each child must be held back in his or her area of specialty. Rather than being encouraged to be remarkable, they are taught to the least common denominator. Any ambitious child is able to continue rising above despite only being taught to the least common denominator, but if equality is the goal rather than maximizing potential, you have to wonder if that ambition will ever show up either..

The conservative recognizes variety and recognizes that trying to force the same standards on to each individual leads to nothing but frustration. Of course, in the context of education and this example specifically, there are certain minimal proficiencies that all functioning members of society should have. No matter how much children hate to read, they have to learn how to do it. However, as a general Principle, forcing uniformity causes more problems than it solves. Variety is a good thing. Variety is inherent in the human race and consistent with our nature. Trying to impose uniformity on top of this natural plethora of differences just does not make sense or work.

We often times tell our children that they can be anything they want to be. That is entirely false. If you are built like a ballerina, you’re not going to be a sumo wrestler. If you don’t have a very high IQ, rocket science is probably not in your future. If you are like me and have severely reduced muscle strength, going to work on in the cornfields will not be a good fit.

The conservative realizes that these truths are okay. We can’t pretend that we are all the same. You cannot be anything you want to be. You should be much more concerned about being what God uniquely designed you to be. That calling will be different for each individual person, but there is no problem with that. Your unique set of characteristics, talents and abilities demonstrate the variety of the human race and should not be subject to artificial leveling.

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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