Having the ultimate freedom to act according to your own conscience, our decision-making capacity is limited only by the results. Choices have consequences. The sad truth is that this fact underlines the inability to choose the aftermath. The good news is that we can discern and judge the best option for the best result. That is why, we should all have a rule or code of conduct as a guiding instrument for decision-making in our lives.
Principles are the fundamental underlying truths and beliefs that form the foundation of our knowledge and values and thus guide our action. If the foundations are not strong enough, the house will fall. Faulty conclusions will be reached with faulty principles.
The first reason is we, all have moral standards, as diverse as they can be. Let’s take murder as an example. For most, it is simply wrong and that is why we have laws to punish those who step outside our shared moral boundaries. The premise and moral reasoning that murder is wrong is that it ends someone’s life. Yet, in today’s death culture, human life is of little or no value. Assisted suicide and even infanticide (the killing of an infant) make their way in public discourse.
Considering the fast-changing society where norms of yesterday are deemed deviant today, our culture reflects the constantly revised standards of right and wrong. The moral issues of divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism are perfect examples of a progressivist move leftward that is unlikely to slow down. So, the question remains, are there confines to what is deemed right and socially acceptable?
This proves the point made by the influential writer Russel kirk. In his essay on “The Idea of Conservatism”, Kirk made a brief attempt to identify the principles of liberal thoughts, the second principle being the “Contempt of tradition” where the wisdom of our ancestors is to be ignored for materialistic determinism to achieve social welfare. Formal religion is to be rejected and substituted with the various ideologies.
Consequently, we must stand for something or we will fall for anything. Without principles, we go along the flow that the mainstream proposes and are swayed without hesitation towards self-destructive philosophies and policies. With Ronald Reagan as president four decades ago, the United States fought against the rise of communism globally. Nowadays, this same enemy ideology is mainstream specially among the younger age group. Coined by Saint Thomas More, this is only a “Utopia”, a fantasy land.
As individualistic we have become, yet we live as communities sharing the same land, language and laws. Hence, the second reason to have strong principles is for the common good and the better future we want to give our kids. Venezuelans bought the idea that collectivism would make their country more prosperous and more equal. Even though Venezuela possesses the largest crude oil reserve, starvation is one of their biggest problems.
The sociologist Talcott Parsons believed that order, stability, and cooperation in society are based on value consensus. Norms and values are fabrics that keep communities together. Inversely, without shared agreement, society only gets polarized into factions. The rise in populism in the last decade is a reaction and opposition to social change in morality among others.
And like I’ve written before; rapid social change is a factor that leads to a rise in suicide. But in our present society, it looks more like a societal collapse. The underlying problem is that the shift in habits, beliefs, norms, and values based on the dictates of popular opinion without opposition destroys the foundation of society. Communities lose their cultural identity and individuals turn against each other as there is no more common ground. The rioting in America last year that led to towns and cities being burnt to the ground is only part of the big picture.
Principles should be realistic and not contradict human nature. For example, equality among all men. Perfect equality can never exist. Many thinkers give various reasons but just looking on the surface, we deduce that everyone have different aptitudes and abilities that cannot be raised to the same level, whatever set of standards we imagine. As Russel Kirk argued, liberal thought ignores our humanity, and is but a melioristic approach that believes that man can progress illimitably.
Accordingly, which principles to adhere to and build a strong foundation on?
In the same essay mentioned above found in “The Conservative Mind”, Russel Kirk identifies six core principles of conservatism. I invite you to read and debate those principles. I know that some readers may not like to be associated with conservatism, but this is a good starting point to build your principles.
- Belief in a transcendent order or body of natural law that rules society as well as conscience. There is objective truth in the universe, and we can know it. There are such things as truth and right, falsehood and wrong.
- Affection for the variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrow uniformity and egalitarianism of “radical” systems. Conservatives are convinced that life is worth living, as Kirk was fond of saying, and, unlike liberals, do not seek to force sameness upon humanity.
- Civilized society needs orders and classes. There are natural distinctions among men, leading to inequalities of condition. Equality only before God’s judgement and the courts of law.
- Freedom and property are linked: without private property, the state is unstoppable. Redistribution of wealth, by taxes or other means, is not economic progress. Men need property to secure their rights, discharge their duties, and limit government.
- Faith in prescription and distrust of those calculating men who would reconstruct all of society according to their own abstract designs. A conservative believes things are the way they are for a good reason: past generations have passed on customs and conventions that stood the test of time. Customs serve as a check on anarchy and the lust for power.
- Recognition that change may not be a good thing. Hasty innovation can destroy as well as improve, so conservatives are prudent with their changes and approach reform with caution rather than zeal.
Learning history and studying civilizations is a great way to understand what made some societies unique and special. For instance, how the Roman Empire managed its large expanse of land and territories through their hierarchical system.
Lastly, principles are crucial because they are the foundation of everything admirable about human beings. It is not the principles of the government that makes it corrupt but the lack thereof. Principles are essential to distinguish the right path from the wrong path as they shape our understanding of the world around us. As a result, we need to build principles that are rock solid and strive to find what is true as foundation to reach the right conclusion in everything we do.