politics admit of general truths, which are invariable by the humour or education either of subject or sovereign, it may not be amiss to observe some other principles of this science, which may seem to deserve that character.—David Hume “That Politics May be Reduced to a Science”
What we had should have never have ended--Jim Croce
That no political settlement is permanent is as necessary that humans are mortal. All known experience confirms these facts. True Conservatism, understood here as a political temperament, accepts this as an axiom and tries to slow the rate of change as far as possible. I distinguish such Conservatism from those more nostalgic programs, often called ‘Conservative,’ that wish to restore the conditions prior to some unwished for change (or worse). It also helps us distinguish those conservatives from those false Conservatives who align themselves with capitalism—a system of social organization that, whatever its virtues, greatly facilitates ("creative destruction" and all that) change.
At first glance there is something mildly ridiculous about treating slow change as an end in itself. Upon further reflection the desire for permanence has something morbid about it – the only known realization of near unchanging-ness is death --, too; or, in a different register, it might evoke union with that only unchanging object: God. This suggests that true conservatism also partakes in some of our deepest longings (which explains the natural resonance(s) between romanticism and conservatism).
Even so, it is undeniable that a stable environment makes planning for all kinds of long-term projects (families, commerce, architecture, renewable energy, etc.) easier. While such prudential considerations appeal to the general temperament of a Conservative, it can also form the basis of a more moral vindication of Conservative philosophy. In brief: if one allows that reasonable expectations generate obligations, including, perhaps, those associated with justice, then one can argue that stable conditions and slowly changing conditions are – prima facie – those circumstances conducive to the flourishing of virtues associated with justice. This is why, in fact, from Plato to Rawls those political blueprints primarily devoted to justice often appear so lacking in dynamism and why a Bismarck could support the welfare state from the start.
But to slow down the rate of change may well require considerable political activity by persuasion and legislation, which can create incentives that support the status quo and which may prevent undesirable changes. And this turns the Conservative to more theoretical study of the political (as in political philosophy and science) because it needs to understand the causal order in order to know which policies to advocate in order to keep it from changing. Alas, political science teaches the law of unintended consequences (which is one of the reasons behind the first axiom) and, thereby, generates the Conservative dilemma: she wants to slow down change but now knows that some of her efforts will unintentionally facilitate more change.