Conservatism is “formless” like water: it takes the shape of its conditions, but always remains the same. This is why Russell Kirk calls conservatism the “negation of ideology” in The Politics of Prudence. It is precisely the formlessness of conservatism which gives it its vitality. Left alone, the spirit of conservatism is essentially what T.S. Eliot calls the “stillness between two waves of the sea” in “Little Gidding” of his Four Quartets. Conservatism is both like water and the stillness between the wavesthe waves are not the water acting, but being acted upon; stillness is the default state of conservatism:
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always
A condition of complete simplicity
Like the Greek concept of kairosacting in the right way, for the right reasons, at the right momentthis sort of waiting is simply careful conservatism. Conservatism is responsive, reactionary, reserved. Conservatism waits. Perhaps this is why conservatism is most needed in the modern age of mobility. Being careful, and above all patient is crucial to doing something right. Realizing that one does not know the best way of doing anything guarantees not that one will find the best way, but that one might not find the worst way. The same principle applies to knowledge: conservatism (hopefully) does not pretend to know the definitive way, but rather professes the virtue of ignorance with the quiet hope of finding knowledge.
Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.
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