The following is taken from The Conservative Mind (pp. 7-9, 10), by Russell Kirk.
Conservatism is not a fixed and immutable body of dogmata; conservatives inherit from [Edmund] Burke a talent for re-expressing their convictions to fit the time. As a working premise, nevertheless, one can observe here that the essence of social conservatism is preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity. Conservatives respect the wisdom of their ancestors . . .; they are dubious of wholesale alteration. They think society is a spiritual reality, possessing an eternal life but a delicate constitution: it cannot be scrapped and recast as if it were a machine. . . .
I think that there are six canons of conservative thought–
(1) Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems. A narrow rationality . . . cannot of itself satisfy human needs. . . . True politics is the art of apprehending and applying the Justice which ought to prevail in a community of souls.
(2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems; conservatives resist what Robert Graves calls “Logicalism” in society. . . .
(3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a “classless society.” With reason, conservatives have often been called “the party of order.” If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom.
(4) Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all. Economic levelling, they maintain, is not progress.
(5) Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophisters, calculators, and economists” who would reconstruct society upon abstract desings. Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man’s anarchic impulse and upon the innovator’s lust for power.
(6) Recognition that change may not be salutory reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman’s chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence. . . .
In a revolutionary epoch, sometimes men taste every novelty, sicken of them all, and return to ancient principles so long disused that they seem refreshingly hearty when they are rediscovered. . . . The true conservative thinks of this process [of historical change and conflagration], which looks like chance or fate, as, rather, the providential operation of a moral law of polarity. And Burke, could he see our century, never would concede that a consumption-society, so near to suicide, is the end for which Providence has prepared man. If a conservative order is indeed to return, we ought to know the tradition which is attached to it, so that we may rebuild society; if it is not to be restored, still we ought to understand conservative ideas so that we may rake from the ashes what scorched fragments of civilization escape the conflagration of unchecked will and appetite.