Food For Thought On A Friday Afternoon

Russell Kirk on what it means to be a conservative:

Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word “conservative” as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.

The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.

In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy “change is the means of our preservation.”) A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude.



  1. Al Gray says:

    Keeping one’s hands to himself, especially around the citizenry’s property and money.

    • griftdrift says:

      Somewhat. But do you not see how quickly that can metastize into to dogma which leads quickly to chaos which is in fact the opposite of the philosophy of conservatism advocated by both Burke and Kirk?

      • Al Gray says:

        All political theory, like religious exegesis, can so metastasize. Chaos erupts when a librul makes a move on both property and money. The ones who tried that on me, wore GOP labels, but were masquerading as conservatives.

        Bastiat had things nailed and the Founders got it right with the Constitution, a document that I cherish, but not many conservatives agree.

        • griftdrift says:

          Agree. And one of the beauties of The Constitution is change but through restraint and incremental change. Very conservative in my viewpoint. However, what few recognize and the clear path to metastization for your proposal is incremental change is not no change. If we take the implied siloes of “keep ones hands to himself” to a dogmatic conclusion we reach the current dogma of there is no left side of the Laffer Curve.

          Or in other words, anyone who ever votes for any tax is not a “true conservative”.

          • Al Gray says:

            Ah, you have hit on a key point, in a reverse sort of way. Back in 2009 the Georgia Department of Revenues, with the blessing of “conservative” leadership, changed a policy with respect to sales tax exemptions that was court-tested and had stood for 40 years. It gave away $hundreds of millions (my source being DOR folks) that PREVIOUSLY had been matched to long term pension and benefit promises. The GOPers cut the taxes being collected from corporations but DID NOT request cuts on the obligations side. That is not conservative. It was just plain irresponsible.

    • Community is important, especially to Kirk and Burke, and really to conservatism. Listen to this speech by Senator Mike Lee. It’s 20+ minutes long but worth your time. Here’s a sample:

      In the last few years, we conservatives seem to have abandoned words like “together,” “compassion,” and “community”… as if their only possible meanings were as a secret code for statism.

      This is a mistake. Collective action doesn’t only – or even usually – mean government action.

      Conservatives cannot surrender the idea of community to the Left, when it is the vitality of our communities upon which our entire philosophy depends.

      Nor can we allow one politician’s occasional conflation of “compassion” and “bigger government” to discourage us from emphasizing the moral core of our worldview.

      Conservatism is ultimately not about the bills we want to pass, but the nation we want to be.

      If conservatives want the American people to support our agenda for the government, we have to do a better job of showing them our vision for society. And re-connecting our agenda to it.

      We need to remind the American people – and perhaps, too, the Republican Party itself – that the true and proper end of political subsidiarity is social solidarity.

      Ours has never been a vision of isolated, atomized loners. It is a vision of husbands and wives; parents and children; neighbors and neighborhoods; volunteers and congregations; bosses and employees; businesses and customers; clubs, teams, groups, associations… and friends.

      The essence of human freedom, of civilization itself, is cooperation. This is something conservatives should celebrate. It’s what conservatism is all about.

      • Al Gray says:

        Ah, but how does that jive with having 80% too many parasitic banks all over the place living off forced confiscation of entrepreneur’s and frugal folks savings as government policy? Welfare isn’t just the domain of the Democratic underclass any more and the GOP’s favorite parasites are even more costly!

      • griftdrift says:

        Community is key. But here’s where the struggle is. Community cannot be gated. And it cannot be used as a tool of exclusion. Otherwise it becomes a cult.

        An example.

        Government workers.

        How many times have we heard criticism of government workers on this site. Or even more extreme, I once heard Ann Coulter say “government workers are parasites that produce nothing”. The founder of this site has shared similar viewpoints.

        But look back at what Mike Lee said. Government workers are not abstractions. They are neighbors, volunteers, club members, members of congregations, friends, etc. They pay taxes. They receive benefits. They take and they contribute. Just like the rest of us.

        The key to community is it has to be willing to recognize the commonalities, even with those with whom we disagree.

        And to me, nothing could be more conservative in philosophy.

        • Harry says:

          But where’s the commonality in this:

          “…One can spend endless hours recalling the bloody tyrannies of the French Revolution, or Communism or the Nazis (aka the National Socialists) or, in America, the violence visited by leftist groups from the Ku Klux Klan to this or that labor union to all those 60s radicals who raced around the country in a murderous rage with bombs and bullets.

          But what the massive abuse of the IRS illustrates is a tyranny of a different sort. A bloodless yet still quite decided tyranny. A tyranny of the American Left designed not just to chill free speech — although that is a primary goal. What has evidenced itself in the Obama era is a tyranny designed not just to silence dissent, but to deliberately, willfully damage if not ruin outright the reputations and businesses of Americans across the land.

          To scare the living hell out of people.

          To send the message: do what we say — or else….”

          • griftdrift says:

            I think to even imply that we leave under tyranny is to insult the legacy of every cold warrior from Truman to Eisenhower to Reagan to Thatcher who fought true tyranny. It is to lessen all those who stood in front of tanks in Prague or demostrated in the Gdasnk shipyards.

            It respects neither tradition nor order.

            It’s as far from conservatism as I can envision.

              • bgsmallz says:

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

                Agreeing to disagree sometimes isn’t an option for the conservative. In that vain…sorry, you’re wrong. Grift is right. Saying that what the IRS did is tyranny just to a different degree than living in Stalin’s Russia is nonsensical and incorrect. It’s like saying a puddle of water is an ocean just like the Pacific only to a different degree. That’s just not true. An ocean and a puddle are two different things even if they have similarities. Show some respect for those actually affected by tyranny…not to mention show some respect for a the hard work done by our ancestors building a vocabulary that allows you to accurately differentiate between tyranny and abuse.

                • Harry says:

                  “Less than two weeks ago President Obama stood in front of graduates from The Ohio State University and told them to reject those who warn of government tyranny.
                  “Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems,” he said.
                  To young, idealistic people his words likely sounded insightful — until last week. That’s when it became officially impossible to deny that the government abuses its power for political gain.
                  Practically overnight people labeled conspiracy theorists by the elite were proven prescient interpreters of how big government operates when news broke last Friday that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny in their tax-exempt applications. The media pile-on against the administration is so ferocious Fox News could run live feeds from its competitors without losing a beat.
                  It should be so because the partisan treatment of hundreds of groups is stunning.
                  The government promises, “Protecting the privacy of individuals remains the highest priority.” But after the last week, Americans should know there is no guarantee of personal privacy with the government or impartiality in how their information is used. It should also put Americans on notice that their political party could determine the quality of their health care. Welcome to the real world, Ohio State graduates.”


                  “The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt; especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. it is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists.” ― G.K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State

                  • bgsmallz says:

                    You don’t seem to understand the definition of the word tyranny. All the quotes in the world will not change that simple fact.

                    • Harry says:

                      Well here’s one more for you: “When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.” ― Thomas Jefferson

                      If you don’t think actions like selective application of the tax laws and trying to throttle journalists’ sources does not produce fear and behavior modification, then I don’t know what to tell you.

                    • bgsmallz says:

                      Fear? I’d be scared if the IRS could do this and there was no consequences or ability to check them. That’s not the case, is it? Tyranny is a world where injustices don’t get solved by bringing them to the light. Stalin would have killed the whistleblowers and probably the workers who allowed that information leaked and then he’d kill anyone that dared being it up again. Conversation over.

                    • mpierce says:

                      1: oppressive power ; especially : oppressive power exerted by government
                      2 a : a government in which absolute power is vested in a single ruler; especially : one characteristic of an ancient Greek city-state
                      b : the office, authority, and administration of a tyrant
                      3: a rigorous condition imposed by some outside agency or force
                      4 : an oppressive, harsh, or unjust act : a tyrannical act

                      1: unreasonably burdensome or severe
                      2: tyrannical
                      3: overwhelming or depressing to the spirit or senses

                      Unreasonably burdensome power exerted by government seems to fit the IRS situation to me.

                    • mpierce says:

                      I’d be scared if the IRS could do this and there was no consequences

                      Stephen Seok was promoted. Who has been held accountable?

                    • Harry says:

                      As one of my friends remarked, “It’s important to note the IRS is still holding up the tax-free status authorizations of many conservative organizations. The IRS admits they were doing something wrong, we all know they were doing something wrong; it’s been in the papers; they had the hearings, but this ******** is still going on today!!!!”

                      This is how they roll. The rule of law and precedent mean nothing. Occasionally faced with public disapproval they make a small concession, and then continue as before.

            • seenbetrdayz says:

              it seems folks have a hard time fathoming that tyranny could come from the ranks of their own governments. Of those you listed, I assume you are talking about their stands against foreign threats. That’s an easy one. A foreign enemy is much easier to vilify and condemn than something which is familiar.

              In perspective, I don’t think I’d put IRS at the top of the tyranny list. I’d focus more on drug-raids-gone-wrong (wrong house, shoots dog, kills wrong guy, and then the chief of police dusts his hands off and everyone shrugs their shoulders that someone’s grandma is dead, a week later another story like that pops up in a brief newspaper paragraph wedged between the weather report and the coupon section). —To me that is more along the lines of tyranny. But by and large the American people have become desensitized to it. Desensitized to war. Desensitized to corruption. Desensitized to theft. Essentially, desensitized to our gov’t.

              The tyranny is there. It’s just been there so long we don’t seem to care anymore.

        • Harry says:

          Where’s the commonality in government workers getting much better compensation and benefits than private-sector taxpayers who pay for the system?

          • taylor says:

            Maybe at the federal level. Though many soldiers have found much better pay working for a private sector contractor.

  2. Vicki says:

    “The turn will come when we entrust the conduct of our affairs to the men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power that they have been given. It will come when Americans, in hundreds of communities throughout the nation, decide to put the man in office who is pledged to enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic. Who will proclaim in a campaign speech: ‘I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel the old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.’” — Barry Goldwater, “Conscience of a Conservative,” 1960

  3. Ghost of William F Buckley says:

    My spine is literally chilled with the beauty and poignant language of famous brilliant minds quoted here, as well as the clarity of so many contributor thoughts. This is an extraordinary read.

    Thank you, Buzz, for getting the ball rolling with Russell Kirk.

  4. gcp says:

    Nothing changes for the better until those individuals that use government to take from others change their ways and their thinking. Call it conservative, libertarian, constitutional; call it whatever you want but that’s the bottom line.

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      There’s hope if you consider what Margaret Thatcher said about the system. So here’s your silver-lining:

      Eventually, it will collapse.

      • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

        I find it ironic that conversations with knowledgeable conservative and liberal people often ends exactly the same way – Total and utter economic collapse.

        It occurs to me that this Nihilistic thinking is an intellectual backstop – It doesn’t solve anything, but FINALLY both sides agree we cannot continue along a profligate path indefinitely.

        Seldom, if ever, in recorded history, has mankind plotted its’ demise more closely, with almost date certainty, and chosen not to act decisively.

        Take heart, we will muddle through this.

        “You, you, and you – Panic. The rest of you men, follow me.” Gen. Geo. S. Patton

        • Al Gray says:

          Ghost, we should be totally energized by the challenges. I know that I am. In every era of powerful changes there are opportunities. In the present instance, boomers stupidly are clinging onto a government security blanket that has already been blown away, if one is paying attention.

          The 2008 Lehman/2007 Bear events under rule of law would have RUINED those who control politics at every level, sending them into a panic for even more power and restoration of “their” wealth. The looting has been stunning. A reaction to all of that looms. We can either rise above it and ride the wave, or be crushed by it. My prediction is that the overreach, the looting, and the decimation of the middle class means the perpetrators will be the ones crushed.

          Conservatism has been hijacked to serve looters and its allure has been tarnished. Lets save conservatism while jettisoning the GOP establishment who has deceived us under its name.

    • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

      gcp takes thirty-six words to eloquently state the issue – Both sides are culpable for our present situation, blaming one or the other simply helps us get through the perilous night.

      Our amazing World has changed so much in the last 80 years – From the well-intentioned beginnings of the New Deal to the contemporary (Insert pithy adjective HERE) Deal.

      Will we see both sides so unwilling and incapable of common-sense solutions that they will allow the Union to fail?

      I doubt that.

  5. saltycracker says:

    Communities are to permit individuals to freely pursue happiness within agreed boundaries of behavior set by customs and laws. When individuals expect the community to provide that happiness with excessive controls, freedom slowly erodes.

    • John Konop says:


      In all due respect I am confused by you essay.

      One if I follow your logic about moral issues, than we should have harsher laws about divorce than gay marriage. I happen to read the message differently than you……I think it is more about being humble, loving others and letting God do the judging…..

      Second using President Reagan as an example for the above is rather bizarre…..since he was pivotal in protecting rights of gay people……..

      Third, private/public projects have been a core part of growing our country since it started via infrastructure……ie Lewis and Clarke, railroads, airports, electronic grid, Internet, bio tech………obviously need a more efficient government, but not everything needs nor should be the private sector only……. In fact concepts like prisons, military……..not only have created conflict of interest, one cannot argue it has become more efficient…..the private prison system is paid for putting more people away on victim less crimes not less……paid more for longer sentence not less…..paid more for more repeat criminals not less…….

      Finally, anytime you let an ideology cloud pragmatic solutions, you are a fundamentalist …….and that is usually when feelings out weigh logic…….

      • IndyInjun says:

        I sort of like Jesus’ priorities of forgiveness of sins rooted in human frailty and total rejection, literally, of money-changers in the temple.

        So-called “conservatives” have fallen to lionizing the wrong folks and demonizing the wrong folks. The public has had a gut full and that is why the GOP is going down in flames.

        One ponders if a politico in His day might have brayed about not taking a sip of wine from a benefactor, then using power over chariot concessions to get a free pass into the winery.

        • Ken says:

          Perhaps more people will realize that we should follow principle rather than personalities. Great men and women are still fallible humans. They can be wrong.

          To quote my favorite Democrat:

          “We’re all ignorant, just on different subjects.” – Will Rogers

  6. NoTeabagging says:

    A 501(c)(4) is a social welfare organization (e.g., NRA, Sierra Club). Contributions to a (c)(4) are not tax deductible, and may be subject to a gift tax. Donors also need not be publicly disclosed under the tax law. Unlike (c)(3)s, these groups can participate in political campaign activity for candidates for public office, provided that this is not their primary activity.

    I have yet to see one legitimate report of any group, allegedly delayed when applying to the IRS for 501(c)(4) status, defining their primary purpose and backing it up that they indeed did prove their primary purpose to retain or achieve 501(c)(4) status. Instead of facts, we only get reported political party finger pointing and whining.

    Abuse of power? Nixon, people, Nixon. Have we forgotten so soon?

  7. NoTeabagging says:

    Oops I meant to keep on topic. The above comment should have followed the IRS thread.

    Conservative. Ask ten people for a definition and you will get 10 answers. Same for the “L” word.
    Strange, I see lots of discussion on bringing conservatives together, but I never see the “L” people advertising for solidarity.

    Fact is, the two teams rely on everyone having a personal definition of what “C” and “L” mean. Why define it, if you can dupe millions into believing they all stand for the same thing, just don’t let them discuss what the definition truly is. Chaos would ensue.

  8. saltycracker says:

    Wouldn’t hurt to come to some agreements as to what government is for:

    Minimum standard of living
    Research & Development
    Infrastructure/public lands

    Economists agree that people have pushed expectations of govt to unsustainable levels around the world.

    We scoff at the Greeks avoiding taxes and retiring early but have no issue with our vast underground economy, a failed tax code, poor being defined higher each year, and generous local, state & Federal pensions & benefits.

    Immediate: Moving the full retirement age out for public employees & SS benefits to 67 would right the ship. Local, state & Federal.

    Long term: A complete overhaul of the tax system.

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