Russell Kirk’s Sixth Conservative Principle: Imperfectability

As we move ahead to the next one of The Ten Conservative Principles of Russell Kirk, you should know ahead of time that this post is not meant to boost your self-esteem.

Kirk writes:

Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.

Nobody is perfect. I’m sorry if I ruined your day by saying that. No society is perfect either. As much as we might try to create the best environment we can, our efforts are never going to turn into the ultimate utopia. When you hear about people like John Lennon imagining a world with no problems and ultimately becoming as one, the conservative understands that this will never happen on earth no matter how much we want it to be so. As Ben Shapiro often says, “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” and in this case, the evidence of imperfection in the world around us far outweighs how we feel about the fact that that imperfection is there.

The Christian conservative has a hope and a trust that everything will be made right one day. The world will be perfect. There will be no more tears, no more pain and no more sorrow. There will be a time when all of that comes true, but in the meantime, we are still pilgrims in this imperfect world. Beyond that, we are imperfect pilgrims in this imperfect world. We have to deal with the problem of imperfection, but we are also the cause of that imperfection ourselves.

Does this mean that we stop trying to make everything better? Should we just throw up our hands and give up the fight because our efforts to improve will inevitably crumble?

Absolutely not. We still do what we can to work for the good of the world around us. That is part of loving our neighbor. That being said, we realize that the entire world, including ourselves, are imperfect. Even when we think we are doing all the right things, we might be wrong. We can be sure that we have the best idea in the world that can change the lives of entire cities for the better, but for a variety of reasons, those proposed plans can fall through.

In a perfect world, the best ideas would continually be implemented and literally create heaven on earth. That is not where we find ourselves, and the conservative realizes that. Cultural reformers on the left have continually sought to overcome this reality. Communism is one of the most serious and tragic manifestations of this utopian impulse. Human effort will never create heaven on earth.

You may not like this Principle very much. You may say that it sounds pessimistic. However, if we are all honest with ourselves, we know that Kirk is right. This world is far from a perfect place, and while we try to do what we can to make it better, we recognize that there is only One who can set everything to right. As Christian conservatives, we long for the day He does just that. Until then, we support policies that recognize our shortcomings and seek to institute checks and balances to restrain evil and preserve freedom.

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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