Russell Kirk

Re-reading Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. This is a fascinating book, whether or not you agree with everything he says–deep scholarship, flowery (sometimes too flowery) prose, incisive judgments. For me it’s as much a chance to run through intellectual history since the French Revolution as anything else. Kirk cites Burke as the first conservative and draws a chain of British and American ‘conservatives’–many of whom would not fit in modern conservatism–such as John Randolph of Roanoke, Macaulay the historian, and Disraeli.

In essence he views conservatism as a push back against a variety of doctrines first emerging in France in the mid-18th Century, which holds that there is a universal link between the past and the present, holding with it a clear moral order, that commands the respect of politicians if they know what’s good for them. I see no reasonable dispute with this. It says nothing about prohibiting change. That is why despite their widely divergent political careers, ranging across both parties, all of the characters in Kirk’s book hold common beliefs which dictate their actions. It is also why those who did not hold those same beliefs ended, nearly one and all, in some form of catastrophe or disgrace.


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