Russell Kirk’s Tenth Conservative Principle: Permanence and Change

We finally made it to the final one of The Ten Conservative Principles of Russell Kirk. I hope that this series has given you a little bit better perspective on what it actually means to be a conservative. There are so many definitions thrown around in modern parlance that it can be hard to tell what a conservative actually is. This is not to say that everything Kirk says is perfect, but this is a solid framework to begin a discussion on what conservatives believe and rally around.

As his final Principle, Kirk writes:

Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.

I wrote about this early in this series, but it does bear repeating here. The conservative is not opposed to all progress. Not all change is terrible. Some change is incredibly beneficial. However, the intelligent conservative does not just run after every new, trendy, fresh idea. Rather, the conservative considers what has worked in the past. If something has worked traditionally and is not opposed to the enduring moral order, then it takes a great deal of evidence to convince the conservative that change is desirable.

At the same time, we have also talked throughout this series about how the conservative recognizes that our world is an imperfect place. Because of that, there are plenty of instances where change needs to happen. Therefore, the conservative is not opposed to progress especially when it goes against the enduring moral order. The conservative’s desire should always aimed toward that which is objectively right. Prudence dictates that change be considered thoroughly and circumspectly before it is applied, but there are plenty of times when conservatives acknowledge and actually encourage change.

It really is a giant balancing act then. The conservative is biased towards tradition and custom. We love processes that have worked in the past and continue to work. Previous success is not a bad thing and deserves a great deal of respect. However, not every custom and tradition deserves to live on forever. There are very few things more frustrating than asking someone why some inefficient procedure is done a certain way, and they tell you “Well, we have always done it that way.”

It therefore takes consideration and wisdom to properly execute this final Principle. That reconciliation process is difficult. Some changes are needed, and some changes are not. The challenge is to tell which ones are which.

Conservatives face a unique challenge in our world today. We are a culture always looking for the next big thing, but we fail to realize that sometimes newer is not necessarily better. Newer can simply mean newer, and it really may not go any further than that.

Conservatives need to aim to strike that balance. We should not become automatically married to tradition while at the same time not running headlong into every new policy without adequate time for reflection and thought. If we hit this balance right, we will be doing our job as conservatives.

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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