In Kirk’s conservatism, you won’t find policy prescriptions. What you will find is a disposition, both believing and skeptical. Believing in God, and what Eliot called the Permanent Things, but skeptical of mankind’s powers, because of our tragic nature. We need laws, and government, because man’s heart is corruptible. But laws will not save us if our hearts are lawless. I’m thinking of the Kansas City diocese that adopted a new set of laws and bureaucracy to protect against child molesters in the priesthood, and which, if prosecutors are correct, is now living through the spectacle of those rules and that bureaucracy having been violated by the bishop, who appears to have been determined to evade them to protect a particular priest. But of course there are plenty of examples.
The great conservative insight is that man is imperfectible. Conservatism is not an end, but a means — the most reliable means, I believe — to a tolerably decent society. Even, if we’re lucky, a good one. What’s most wrong with contemporary American conservatism, I think, is a thing that afflicts the American character: a lack of a tragic sense.
(Photo via The Imaginative Conservative.)