Power Masked as Prudence

Many years ago one of my supervisors in the education field said, “Don’t mistake action for results.”

I didn’t feel comfortable with his counsel then, and even less so now.

I’m an action guy.


Conservative political philosopher Russell Kirk, author of The Ten Principles of Conservatism, describes the fourth of his ten principles as the need to be “prudent.”

Kirk believes that in politics the best path for success is to be prudent. This is accomplished, according to Kirk, by slowing things down. If you go too fast, he says, you may be creating new problems that are larger than what you intended to solve.

Kirk quotes famous thinkers of the past for his support. He says that British philosopher Edmund Burke agrees with Greek philosopher Plato, when Plato said, “in the statesman prudence is the chief virtue.”

Kirk goes on to claim that “sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.”

According to another Kirk reference, (Senator) John Randolph of Roanoke, “Providence moves slowly, but the devil is always in a hurry.”

Prudence or Power

Lately, my experience with conservative politicians is that their use of prudence is invoked not only to slow reform down, but to eliminate action and reform altogether. To me this smacks of strategy rather than virtue.

Eventually if you use prudence as a stall tactic, you will so frustrate people who differ with you that it will backfire, and the entire system will turn on you. This seems to be what is going on in America today.

The seventy years of stalling on health care has ended, the stalling on gun reform has ended, the stalling on the debt ceiling will end. There is no virtue in exercising prudence if it is a way to exercise power over your opponent. One day it caves in on you, just as surely as it is today.

Prudence And Deceit

Power in the name of prudence is cynical.

I doubt whether prudence can ever be a pure virtue. My suspicion is that the concept of prudence is a smokescreen for those who have an agenda and have determined the best way to accomplish their ends is to invoke prudence as a manifestation of wisdom.

Let’s be clear: the opposite of prudence is not imprudence. The opposite is the freedom to act on your best instincts.

It’s important to encourage people to be actively engaged in doing something they feel matters. Moving forward matters. Learning through trial and error matters. Pursuing something you feel passionate about, even if it results in deciding to pursue it no further, matters. ACTION matters.

Life is not about disguising your raw ambition with flowery philosophical notions.

Life is best played straight up.

I would rather work with a person who says, “I’m going to slow things down, because I don’t believe the direction we’re going in is correct,” than work with someone who says, “The prudent person wouldn’t go forward. There’s wisdom in waiting.”

In the first statement, there is a disagreement. In the second, there is a disagreement disguised as wisdom. Just state your opinion, and leave wisdom and prudence alone.

There’s much for the conservative mind to rework in the years to come, the myth of prudence being one of them.