The twentieth-century conservative is concerned, first of all, for the regeneration of spirit and character--with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest.
Russell Kirk, the author of that quote (posted at the institution developed to carry on his work and his legacy), is generally regarded as one of the 20th Century's leading conservative thinkers. His 1953 book, The Conservative Mind, has been praised as a prime source of guidance for the conservative movement after World War II.
His reverence for ethics and integrity and character are common threads in many of his works. So what happened to those who ostensibly carry on well-established tenets such as those advocated and defined by the likes of Kirk?
Politically speaking, power is the ability to do as one likes, regardless of the wills of one's fellows. A state in which an individual or a small group are able to dominate the wills of their fellows without check is a despotism, whether it is called monarchical or aristocratic or democratic. When every person claims to be a power unto himself, then society falls into anarchy. Anarchy never lasts long, being intolerable for everyone, and contrary to the ineluctable fact that some persons are more strong and more clever than their neighbors. To anarchy there succeeds tyranny or oligarchy, in which power is monopolized by a very few.
The conservative endeavors to so limit and balance political power that anarchy or tyranny may not arise. In every age, nevertheless, men and women are tempted to overthrow the limitations upon power, for the sake of some fancied temporary advantage. It is characteristic of the radical that he thinks of power as a force for good--so long as the power falls into his hands.
Honoring principles which themselves are generally regarded as honorable is a hallmark of an individual who understands and appreciates the importance of character and integrity. One doesn't have to agree with the principles themselves to nonetheless appreciate the decency and soundness of purpose which guide those who do their best to demonstrate the highest and noblest aspects of respected beliefs.
Either there must be agreement that the principles will no longer serve as the guiding source for behaviors and beliefs (a change fraught with great risk), or too many will make the decision to look away when the few transform the standards to suit their own purposes-- while paying lip service to the original ideals. There's a third option, which may be the most damaging of all: pay no attention to the actions and decisions of those few. In the end, that choice may carry the greatest impact.
Conservatism's tenets serve as a useful shield and badge for the Koch Brothers of the world and their ilk. They are mere conveniences. As we learn of their wide-ranging, covert efforts (measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars--see this, for example) to bend governing activities and policies to suit their arrogant purposes, it becomes quite clear that they and too many like them abide by no principle other than to amass as much as they can for themselves--consequences to others be damned.
The system which they artfully manipulate away from public view enables them to accumulate even more, and all without interference from or responsibility to others. More is what matters; character and integrity and honesty not so much".(Just how much is enough?)
That they do so while mouthing platitudes designed to appease those who honestly share the legitimate mores and values of genuine conservatism (which they likewise honestly believe are bedrock principles of those elites)--makes their actions all the more reprehensible.
They will impose their versions of morality and economic benefits (I use the term loosely) and the common good (I can't even find a version of "loosely" which would apply to that) as long as their own fellow conservatives ignore the insidious and egregious rights they've accorded themselves to shape our democracy as they see fit. Elections and majority preferences matter only insofar as they enable their selfish objectives.
A bit of consideration as to how those tactics play out, and how far-reaching the scope if left unchecked, would be a useful pursuit for those arguably on the same side of the political and ideological fence. Where does it end if left unchecked?
Indifference exacts a high price on democracy, and on our collective well-being.