Source: Jeffrey Folks

In a recent year, only 69 girls born in America were named “Prudence.”  That’s a shame, because Prudence is not only a lovely name, but also an important virtue — one that we ought frequently to be reminded of.

For conservatives in particular, prudence is a key virtue.  The very nature of conservatism centers on conserving and preserving.  A conservative is prudent by nature since he wishes to preserve his moral and cultural inheritance and, indeed, to preserve life itself.  A conservative cares about life in a way that liberals do not: rather than experimenting with untested and self-serving theories, he is mostly guided by what he has learned from the past and by what he knows to be right.

It is wise to be prudent because life is full of twists and turns that may do us harm.  Every religion teaches of the dangers we face and of the need to take care to avoid violence, accident, illness, bankruptcy, divorce, and other sources of harm.  A thoughtful person — which is to say, a conservative — takes steps to live in a safe, healthy, and financially secure manner.  Even then, disasters may befall him, but his chances of success in life (not just wealth and status, but true happiness) are far greater than that of a heedless liberal.  A week before he was assassinated in Los Angeles, Bobby Kennedy walked past me and a hundred others, two feet away, with no bodyguard.  His death was tragic but unnecessary, and I believe that it resulted in part from a familiar sort of liberal hubris — the same lack of prudence that led JFK to ride through Dallas in a limo convertible and other members of the Kennedy family to die or cause the deaths of others.  Indeed, imprudence is harmful to others, not just to ourselves.

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The fragility of our lives is a sobering fact, and when we factor in the miracle of our ancestors’ survival over countless generations, the odds of our being here are infinitesimal.  If any one of those ancestors had not lived to reproduce, then “I,” the unique person I am among billions of others, would not be here.  That miracle of life should make us more careful in our behavior and in the protection of our children and grandchildren.  Caring for oneself and others is most important quality of a conservative.

Every human being is the product of a web of miracles in the past, and everyone has survived potentially fatal events in his or her own life.  Just driving to work or to the store involves risk, and setting foot in the parking lot can be dangerous as well.  Every year we lose family or friends to disease or accident, and there is always the danger of another global war that might claim the lives of millions.  One shouldn’t waste time dwelling on these dangers, but one shouldn’t dismiss them, either.

As these thoughts sink in, most people become grateful for the life they have been given, and they take precautions to protect themselves.  They drive carefully, manage their health, avoid conflict, and try to live in a safe area.  They support the police and obey the law.  They are frugal and live within their means.  They find joy in simple things, and they live a chaste and faithful existence. 

A conservative recognizes the dangers and takes them seriously, and takes the necessary actions to protect himself, his family, and those around him.  He is prudent and avoids risks.  He knows that life demands courage and faith.  He recognizes the importance of “character” in the sense of moral strength and fortitude.  Like the sheriff played by Gary Cooper in High Noon — that great Cold War–era film about defending one’s way of life against its enemies — he sometimes feels he is standing alone amid a sea of weakness and corruption, but he remains true to his beliefs.  When his Quaker wife urges him to flee, the sheriff says, “If we flee, they’ll only come after us.”  That, too, is wisdom: fleeing life’s dangers or pretending they don’t exist is not possible because our human condition is full of danger.

President Trump understood that “peace through strength” is a prudent policy for our nation, just as prudence and courage are necessary in our personal lives.  Most people know instinctively that “running away” from one’s enemies or pretending they don’t pose a threat — something liberal administrations in Washington have done for decades — is a loser’s game because it violates the very nature of existence.  If you flee a tiger, it will pursue you.  If you deny the existence of and fail to treat a tumor, it will only grow.  Prudence does not just mean avoiding problems; it means confronting them when necessary.

Our lives are miracles, and they are precious and worth preserving, as is our democracy, which is threatened today as it has been many times in the past.  As conservatives, we are prudent and cautious in our everyday lives, and we are strong in defending our way of life.  We recognize the dangers around us, and we are not shy about voicing our opinions as to what must be done.  We know that life can be cruel, unfair, and fragile, so we do our best to make it better for ourselves and those we love.  We treasure life and enjoy it to the fullest, and we intend to pass the free life down to our descendants.

All of that adds up to prudence, and that, in a few words, is the definition of conservatism.