This captures the conservative spirit perfectly:
We are not revolutionaries but reformers. We have a high but not a blind regard for the wisdom that came before us. After all, building something that lasts for generations is very difficult as it requires much wisdom, discipline, and time from many people. In other words, we shouldn’t reinvent the wheel but preserve and refine it. Stick with what works.
But why not reinvent the wheel? Because human society is not some machine or a wheel but a finely woven tapestry of living persons. Any significant change can undo the entire tapestry — which can lead to great harm and chaos to others because humans are slow to change and need a stable society to flourish. Society’s not some lab for your untested, ivory tower ideas. No matter how intelligent or good-willed they seem, conservatives highly oppose these abstract ideals (or systematic changes) precisely because they wish to protect the common good.
This is not to say that we oppose change altogether (otherwise we’d oppose reform), but only certain kinds of change. Conservatives ought to adapt to the changing circumstances and needs of society via gradual, thoughtful reform if they wish to conserve anything. A healthy respect for the wisdom of the past ought to inform such change. But it becomes unhealthy if we “return to the old ways” for its own sake and remain stagnant. In fact, a vice that conservatives must be watchful for is becoming hell bent on tradition and constantly opposing change. As history shows, this extreme can lead to a reaction in the opposite extreme.
True conservatism is cautious, virtuous, and moderate.