Russell Kirk: The Conservative Mind

From Burke to Eliot

Regnery Gateway, Seventh Revised Edition 1986 (1953; original subtitle: From Burke to Santayana)

Amazon.com, 2001 printing     Amazon.com, 2008 ed.

Back Cover:

KirkOne of the most widely reviewed and discussed books of our era, The Conservative Mind is an essay in the history of ideas that has produced great political consequences. For this study often is said to have worked a revival of conservative thought and policy in the United States.

“Kirk tells his story of the conservative stream with the warmth that belongs to it,” Time wrote of the first edition of this book, published thirty-three years ago. “Even Americans who do not agree may feel the warmth – and feel, perhaps, the wonder of conservative intuition and prophecy, speaking resonantly across the disappointing decades.”

Historian, critic, educational writer, political thinker, and master of the mystical tale, Dr. Kirk writes in his new Foreword about the early reception of this powerful study: “The dangerous thing about this particular book was its relative lucidity; conceivably some readers might understand it; and at that prospect there shivered the people whom Gordon Chalmers, in those years, called the ‘disintegrated liberals.'”

Commencing with Edmund Burke and John Adams, this is a history and a criticism of conservative thought and policy in America and Britain, down to the present hour. It has to do with statesmen, poets, judges, theologians, journalists, novelists, philosophers, all in the setting of their times. “Aphorisms burst like bombs from Kirk’s pen,” wrote a socialist reviewer of the book.

Kirk’s method and style often are called “evocative”; he makes dry bones speak to the living. Declining any political office, Dr. Kirk nevertheless is a mover and a shaker near the end of the twentieth century.

Reviews:

Kirk”[It] is inconceivable even to imagine, let alone hope for, a dominant conservative movement in America without [Kirk’s] labor.”  William F. Buckley, Jr.

”Kirk is assured a place of prominence in the intellectual histories for helping to define the ethical basis of conservatism. He has tried to pull conservatism away from the utilitarian premises of liberalism, toward which conservatism often veers, toward a philosophy rooted in ethics and culture.”  Wall Street Journal

About the Author:

Russell Kirk (1918-1994), historian of ideas, critic, essayist, editor, and novelist, was the author of thirty-two books. Among them are The Roots of American Order, The Politics of Prudence, Enemies of the Permanent Things, and six works of fiction. He received twelve honorary doctorates from American universities and many awards, including the Presidential Citizens Medal.

JOB’s Comment:

The most important book in American conservatism, at least in terms of historical influence.

It is in the new foreword to the seventh revised edition that we find Kirk’s praise for and lengthy quotations from Tage Lindbom:

“The egalitarian dystopias of Jacquetta Hawkes, Robert Graves, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell have taken on flesh. The world’s evanescent liberal era, in fulfillment of Santayana’s predictions, is giving up the ghost. The outer order of the state falls into the clutch of merciless ideologues or squalid oligarchs: the inner order of the soul is broken by the ‘reductionism’ of fashionable recent notions and by the triumph of destructive appetites.

But this Foreword is no place for disquisition upon the character of our woes. For an account of what ails mankind today, we can listen to the nobly prophetic voices of our generation: to the Russian Alexander Solzhenitsyn, to the Englishman Malcolm Muggeridge, to eh Swiss Max Picard, to the Frenchman Gustave Thibon, to yet others endowed with the moral imagination and the tragic sense of life. There comes to mind, for eminent instance, the book entitled The Tares and the Good Grain, by the Swedish philosopher Tage Lindbom – once a Marxist, today a subject of the Kingdom of God.

Lindbom tells us movingly that, deserting the Kingdom of God, mankind has descended into its own Kingdom of Man; and that the Kingdom of Man will suffer destruction. Enslaved by our readily-gratified lusts, reduced to fatuity by our own ingenious toys, we ignore the mene, mene, tekel, upharsin upon our wall.

‘It is only since World War II that we have entered the time of the great harvest of the Kingdom of Man,’ Lindbom writes. ‘We have now to deal with a secular generation for which material existence is everything and spiritual life is nothing. It is a generation for whidch all that is symbolic becomes ever more incomprehensible…It is a generation which is in the process of eliminating from its consciousness the notion of the family…

The chaos from which we have for so long been preserved arises as a menace before us. And this menace cannot be turned aside by secular guidance except in a certain manner: by a dictatorship, a technocaratic dictatorship. In reality this dictatorship has already begun to make its entrance step by step.

The exterior chaos and this exterior menace of dictatorship are nevertheless not the essential. They are but the projection of something incomparably more serious and more dangerous – interior chaos, the confusion that reigns in the hearts of men. It is now an affair of a generation which, in its ensemble, is incapable of discerning truth from lies, the true from the false, the good from the bad. The time of harvest is come for the Kingdom of Man.’

Lindbom’s voice echoes that of Edmund Burke, two centuries ago. Those who, impossibly demanding, revolt against law and nature do work their own ruin, Burke cried: “and the rebellious are outlawed, cast forth, and exiled, from this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.”

Lindbom reciprocated by dedicating The Myth of Democracy (1996) to Kirk’s memory.

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"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
Ramana Maharshi