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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Permanence Vs. Progression

From The Essential Russell Kirk, here is Kirk, on the yin and yang of politics: Coleridge says that there are two great elements in any society, its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a state, roughly speaking, is its conservative interest; its Progression, what nowadays we call its liberal interest. There are ages in […]

From The Essential Russell Kirk, here is Kirk, on the yin and yang of politics:

Coleridge says that there are two great elements in any society, its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a state, roughly speaking, is its conservative interest; its Progression, what nowadays we call its liberal interest. There are ages in which intelligent people would do well to ally themselves with the Progression of their nation, to contend against stagnation; for a society without the means of renewal is not long for this world.

But our time is not such an age. We do not live in an ancient Egyptian or Peruvian culture, where the dead hand of the past seems to lie mercilessly upon a whole people, and where the only change is corruption. Our modern peril, rather, is that of vertiginous speed: the traditions of civility may be swallowed up by will and appetite; with us, the expectation of change is greater than the expectation of continuity, and generation scarcely links with generation. In the twentieth century, it is our Permanence, not our Progression, which needs the adherence of thinking men and women.

Agreed. This has much to do with why I am a conservative. The problem with this, though, is, as Alasdair MacIntyre has observed, all parties in American politics are devoted to Progression. It’s simply a matter of whether you are a “conservative” progressive, a progressive progressive, or a radical progressive. There is nothing conservative about a figure like, say, Newt Gingrich. I wonder, though, if we have a political culture in which it is all but impossible to be truly conservative, in the moral and philosophical, fullness of that term, as distinct from an ideological right-winger. I have my doubts.

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