The conservative thinker, in his role as analyst, is aware that the latent functions of institutions may be more socially significant than their avowed purposes. But latent functions are by definition hidden, not apparent, unappreciated or at least not the focus of conscious attention. When previously latent functions become the articulated purpose of institutions, the institutions may cease to fulfill the very functions for which they were originally valued by conservative theorists. Conservative analysts may conclude, for example, that the most important social function of churches is as mediating institutions, providing their congregants with a sense of shared purpose and a social setting which diminishes the danger of alienation from the larger institutions of society. But a church in which most members no longer believe in God as the object of their common worship may cease to fulfill its latent social functions. The family that prays together may stay together; but members of a family that pray together in order to stay together may eventually find themselves neither praying nor staying. By emphasizing the latent functions of institutions, then, the conservative analyst may find himself unwittingly transforming and perhaps impairing the very institutions he seeks to conserve.
This results in a characteristic tension of conservative analysis. On the one hand, institutions are defended on the grounds of continuity, utility, and the unanticipated costs of radical change. Yet these institutions may be based upon beliefs which are shared by the orthodox, but not by the conservative. Conservatives who are aware that only genuine belief may be socially functional must therefore take care not to undermine such belief, indeed to strengthen it whenever possible. This leads to an implicit tension between typically conservative modes of analysis and the modes by which institutions are defended by their orthodox adherents.
(Jerry Z. Muller, "Afterword: Recurrent Tensions and Dilemmas of Conservative Thought," in Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought from David Hume to the Present, ed. Jerry Z. Muller [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997], 421-5, at 421-2)