The political season is under way, and the fun and games have begun.
Those who follow politics as a hobby or as a bad habit will soon be
immersed in discussions of the pros and cons of old issues cross-dressed
as new ones, including but not limited to abortion, education, school
vouchers, social security, national defense, taxes, budgets, welfare,
immigration, affirmative action, campaign reform, the environment,
crime, violence and morality.
A few new questions will be intermingled with unresolved old ones. Is
our country headed in the right direction? Do polls need to be
regulated? What is the right relationship between state and religion?
Will New York State elect an abused wife from Arkansas to the U.S
Senate? What will be Bill Clinton’s legacy? Can Al Gore survive a
separation at the hip from Bill Clinton? Is George W. Bush a real
Before we get lost in such matters as these, let’s probe a little
deeper than is our custom. Rather than content ourselves with the
nuggets lying around on the surface, let’s mine deeper to discover major
veins of political wisdom, insight and philosophy.
George W. Bush has given us a place to start digging by using the
term “compassionate conservative.” It is obvious that he is attempting
to overcome the stereotype of conservatives as being intolerant and
uncaring. He says he is also trying to provoke a discussion of what
conservatism actually is.
That’s a good place to start. What is a conservative? What do
conservatives think and believe that differentiates them from others?
Let’s see if we can unearth the mother lode underlying those questions.
In his masterful book, “The March of Freedom,” Heritage Foundation
President Edwin J. Feulner gives us a clear view into the hearts and
minds of the individuals who played major roles in shaping modern
One of these individuals was Russell Kirk, whose classic political
book, “The Conservative Mind,” was published in 1953. Feulner described
Kirk as “… the conscience of the conservative movement. Perhaps more
than anyone in our century, he revitalized conservative thought,
galvanized its adherents into forming a movement, and restored its
In his book “The Power of Ideas,” Lee Edwards summarizes the six
canons that Kirk used to describe the essence of modern conservatism:
“(1) A divine intent, as well as personal conscience, rules
society.” This is not a trite platitude. In Kirk’s own words,
“political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.” Kirk
understood the concept of original sin. The outcome of every human life,
the destiny of every nation and the ultimate survival of the human race
is determined by the outcome of the battle between good and evil.
“(2) Traditional life is filled with variety and mystery while most
radical systems are characterized by a narrowing uniformity.” He meant,
of course, that human uniformity is not a natural condition, and
requires the use of force to achieve. Imposed uniformity stifles
creative thought, deadens the sense of wonderment, and imprisons the
human spirit. It is a neo-liberal thing.
“(3) Civilized society requires orders and classes.” Nobody expressed
the thought better than U.S. educator Felix E. Schelling, who said,
“True education makes for inequality; the inequality of individuality,
the inequality of success, the glorious inequality of talent, of genius;
for inequality, not mediocrity, individual superiority, not
standardization, is the measure of the progress of the world.”
“(4) Property and freedom are inseparably connected.” The communist
revolutionaries Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels agree. In the Communist
Manifesto, they wrote, “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in
the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” American
liberalism, that is to say, socialism, allows individuals to hold title
to private property, but the government holds control.
“(5) Man must control his will and his appetite, knowing that he is
governed more by emotion than by reason.” Kirk understood that if
individuals do not bridle their own behavior, power-hungry government
bureaucrats will happily do it for them. Conservatives are unified
around the idea of individual freedom and self-control, while liberals
are unified around the idea of human helplessness and government
“(6) Society must alter slowly.” Kirk understood the value of the
learning curves of civilization as reflected in tradition, custom and
prescription. The distilled wisdom of the past deserves respect.
Kirk’s profound ideas and admonitions have become a part of that
distilled wisdom. I believe he would agree with the thought that if we
made the effort to comprehend the underlying political principles and
spiritual values that generated our Constitution and gave birth to what
was to become the greatest triumph of collective human effort in the
history of the world, we would be better positioned to ask the kind of
questions we need to ask of those who want to lead us.