“The individual is foolish, but the species is wise.”
Previously discussed, the conservative’s thought process begins with the belief in a higher moral order and from there moves to the understanding and influence of custom, convention, and continuity. While these two considerations have been of importance with regards to conservative thought, it is the trained thought of Edmund Burke that best represent the essence of the philosophy.
Simply put by Russel Kirk, the conservative embraces the idea “that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time.”
Where would the conservative be in modern times without the wisdom of Washington, the fortitude of Lincoln, the humility of Coolidge, or the forsight of Reagan? None of these men came to the table without an understanding of history and the use of those lessons in a principled approach to politics.
Washington and Reagan understood the need to stand strong in the face of the enemy; Lincoln (of man) and Coolidge (of the market) understood the importance of liberty and freedom. With these few examples, what are the lessons called they have given us? The answer are the principles that Burke lived by: prescription, presumption, and prejudgement.
To better understand prescription, we need to understand Burke’s interpretation of it and carry it over to what our nation’s founders did with it.
Burke believed in a prescription of classes. That men were to be born equal in the eyes of justice and morality is as far as Burke went. There was not a necessary equality in wealth, intelligence or beauty. While what Burke may have intended was a preconceived prescription of classes, what our Founding Fathers took from him and made theirs is one of the most unique plans ever devised. Moreover, for them to have stated it in the Declaration of Independence, and furthered it’s purpose in the Constitution and for the purposes of all men is, quite frankly, the essence of possibility in this nation.
While there will always be classes… lower, middle, and upper classes of society… in this nation we find the dynamic nature of the class structure. We have the ability to pursue a higher class and theoretically nothing can stop us but our own self. We also have the ability to fall in class, again only to blame nature or our own decisions for such an event. But what is constant is the class structure; regardless of the type of government man has provided, the prescription of classes has been a constant. What has been mixed of our Fathers and Burke has been the ability for every man to move from one class to the next, or fall behind, through the will of his own agent.
While prescription is most important when discussing Burke’s conservatism, we must also consider presumption and prejudgment.
Presumption and prejudgment are quite simple: the ideas stem from being able to predict an outcome due to past experiences (presumption), and from there making decisions based on the desired outcome (prejudgement). These two lines of consideration are what should allow us to revisit the wanted outcomes and keep us from revisiting the unwanted outcomes of history.
For instance, when we consider the economic ramifications of progressive taxation, and how increasing and decreasing the levels of “progressiveness”, we should find that the less progressive approach tends to yield better results. Unfortunately for us, we as an aggregate people don’t understand that good political sense many times doesn’t make good economic sense.
Another example we can use is in the world of foreign policy. In studying the build up to, and the climax of the National Socialist Party movement of Adolf Hitler, we can come to a conclusion that there are some forms of nature on earth that can’t be bargained with, can’t be trusted, and can’t be allowed certain actions on the national stage. To do so would be to the detriment of world peace, as was the case when dealing with Nazi Germany. Yet, through a lack of prejudgment and presumption from the lessons of history, US and world leaders have a bad habit of allowing despotic rulers’ actions on the world stage to go unaddressed in any serious manner and on a continuous basis.
In conclusion, the conservative understands to the core what Burke stated: “The individual is foolish, but the species is wise.” We cannot ignore the past, nor can we ignore the lessons we learn from experience and knowledge given to us. To do so is detrimental not only to the current generation, but future ones as well; for if the only lessons we give posterity are ones of what doesn’t work, they are continually at the drawing board seeking the ideas that do.
Nicholas Ibarra is the Director of Communications of Live Free Springfield. He has a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Evangel University, is a former Marine and Iraq Veteran, is the Chairman of the 7th Congressional District Chapter of Veterans in Defense of Liberty, and is a former member of Springfield City Council.