Recognition that change may not be salutary 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.
This canon of conservatism touches on the age-old question about what is the proper speed of social change.
Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.
This sentence hints at the conservative fear of "revolution," especially revolution on the model of the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. Although the French and Russian Revolution were especially bloody examples of revolution, the intrinsic trait of "revolution" is not violence, but the speed of change. In other words, "revolution" refers to extremely rapid social change, in contrast to "evolution," which refers to slow, methodical social change. The fear that "hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress" is the fear that excessively speedy changes may end up destroying more than they create.
There is nothing wrong with opposing unnecessary socially destructive change, but conservatives haven't successfully proven that they are the best people to deal with change. Conservatives are especially wrongheaded when it comes to gradual changes that undermine the hierarchical ordering of society. At first glance, conservatives should have nothing to object to. As long as the hierarchical ordering of society is undermined by gradual change and not "hasty innovation," why should conservatives see any harm? But the problem is that conservatives do seem harm in it, because they are obsessed with Godly order and a hierarchically ordered conception of society. If Godly order and hierarchical society is at issue, conservatives will blithely disregard there fear of "hasty innovation" and use whatever innovations they can find to help get society back to a more unequal state. Conservatives claim to oppose rapid changes that lead to destruction, but they don't really mean it. Conservative counterrevolution can be just as destructive as radical revolution, if the great masses of people are not given the opportunity to peacefully adapt to the change.
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.
At this point, Kirk accepts the inevitability of social change, but argues that the change should only be implemented with the goal of "social preservation." The problem is that "social preservation" is not necessarily preserved by statesmen "taking Providence into his calculations," as Kirk advises. (And don't forget that Kirk refers to "statesmen," not leaders of both genders. This is not an oversight.)
If a statesman is a conservative in the mode of Russell Kirk and "takes Providence into his caluclations," he will assume (as mentioned in the first canon of conservatism) that God has ordered the universe and that this order must be hierarchical (as assumed in the third canon of conservatism). As shown in Part I, the assumption that God has ordered the universe will often lead to the persecution of groups associated with social change for being un-Godly. As shown in Part III, the assumption that civilization requires hierarchical orders can easily be used as justification for the strong abusing the weak. Thus, the hypothetical conservative statesman will not produce the peaceful adjustment to gradual change, but instead will react to change with the persecution of society's weakest members.