The Politics of Prescription
Cover of issue 35

How to Cite

The Politics of Prescription: Kirk’s Fifth Canon of Conservative Thought. (2006). The Political Science Reviewer, 35, 159-178.


Defending tradition is a difficult task in an age that ispredisposed to innovation and change. Yet that has been thechallenge to conservatives in the modern age. Modernity invertsthe conservative prejudice for prescriptive wisdom; it favorschange and innovation as the instruments of progress; it placesfaith in what Edmund Burke called the "naked reason"; it arrogatesa wide array of abstract rights divorced from the concretemoorings of historical experience, prescriptive wisdom, andexpedience; it has lost faith in a divinely inspired order that limitsthe extent of moral, political, and social progress and makespolitics the art of the possible. There is a spirit to the modern mindthat is infused with Rousseauian sentiment; it rejects the soberclassical/Judeo-Christian view of the human condition and positsthe natural goodness of man. To the Rousseauist and Marxistalike, traditional conventions are mere chains that prevent individualsfrom creating a new age of freedom and equality. To thepositivist, much of religious tradition and social convention issuperstition that impedes social and scientific progress. Thesecharacteristics of modernity are not easily defeated in favor oftradition. They appeal to the modern desire to escape from thebonds of prescription and set men free to follow their inclinationsor the abstractions of unaided reason.