Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Conservative Believes In An Enduring Moral Order

For the next 10 days, I'm going to post about the ten conservative principles by Russel Kirk. I think these principles are important for conservatives to remember and reflect on. This will be especially important for the new conservative wanting to deepen or solidify his beliefs. Kirk starts his essay with principle number one about the existence of an enduring moral order. 

First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.

"That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.

This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. The problem of order has been a principal concern of conservatives ever since conservative became a term of politics.

Our twentieth-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order. Like the atrocities and disasters of Greece in the fifth century before Christ, the ruin of great nations in our century shows us the pit into which fall societies that mistake clever self-interest, or ingenious social controls, for pleasing alternatives to an oldfangled moral order.

It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society—whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be."

To deny the existence of a moral order or the objectivity of moral duties and values is to deny what many people cherish and take for granted: human dignity, which is strong evidence for the existence of unchanging moral truths. Most naturalists will tell you there isn't a Darwinian explanation for human dignity or for "disinterested altruism." The lack of a natural explanation for a moral order does not destroy the existence of a moral order. You and I both know there is good and evil in the world, which is defined by the moral standard of the universe. Often people suppress that truth to gratify certain appetites, but it's only a matter of time before you will hear that person say, "Well, that's wrong!" or "You shouldn't have done that."

Conservatives know a good society is governed by acknowledgement of objective moral values and duties, a.k.a, the moral order. Do people fall short of the standard? Of course! Failure to live up to the standard is not evidence for the non-existence of the standard. Denial of the standard leads to nihilism and/or moral chaos and neither produce a good society.

Tomorrow will be principle number 2.


1. Taken from the Russel Kirk Center.

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