This basic framework for understanding conservatism is then revealed through the chapters of this book, beginning with the “Errors of Ideology.” Ideology, as Kirk defines it, is a dogmatic approach to “transforming society and even transforming human nature.” The ideologue generally takes as their starting point a hatred of the current political order, a hatred of human nature, and a belief in progressive utopia from some thinker or book who revealed to humanity what could be. Ideology, as practiced by the ideologue, becomes “merciless” in that “march toward Utopia.” Drawing upon other thinkers like Eric Voegelin and Gerhart Niemeyer, Kirk sharply explains the essence of ideology as “promis[ing] mankind an earthly paradise.”
Conservatism, standing in opposition to ideology, isn’t about rejecting change or reform. Kirk, quoting Burke (one of his heroes), knows and affirms that change and reform are necessary (change is a natural part of existence). Change and reform can be good things too. However, the change and reform that conservatism promotes is within the limits of worldly and human nature—to make it better, not perfect. In the merciless march to Utopia promoted by ideology and conservatism’s opposition to ideological madness, Kirk implies that conservatism acts within the boundaries of nature (both earthly and humanly) while ideology seeks to eradicate nature to escape the limits of nature.