Russell Kirk, father of the American conservative movement, died April 29th at the age of 75 in his home in Mecosta, Michigan. Best known for his book The Conservative Mind, published in 1953, Dr. Kirk's writings have influenced two generations of conservatives in the United States and abroad.
He was a prolific writer and columnist, publishing over 30 books of fiction and non-fiction, as well as hundreds of essays and reviews. For 30 years, he edited The University Bookman, a quarterly review of books, and was the founder of Modern Age, a critical review of politics and culture. Furthermore, he lent support to the Acton Institute, since its inception in 1990, with his presence on its advisory board.
Born and raised in rural Michigan, Dr. Kirk cultivated an attachment to the land and an admiration for ruggedly independent agrarian communities. He graduated from Michigan State College in 1940, and went on to graduate school to study history at Duke University. In 1942, he was drafted into the military and spent the rest of the conflict in Utah.
His war-time experience heightened his distrust of state power. Letters during this period revealed his opposition to conscription, military inefficiency, governmental bureaucracy, “paternalism” and socialist economics; he feared that New Dealers would doom the United States to collectivist economic tyranny. His time in the military, however, gave him an opportunity to further his knowledge of the classics, to prepare himself for further studies following military service. Soon after the war, he attended St. Andrews University in Scotland, writing his doctorate on the Anglo-American conservative intellectual tradition, which later became The Conservative Mind.
In it, Dr. Kirk laid out the six principles of his philosophy: 1) political problems are fundamentally moral and religious problems because a divine intent rules society and conscience; 2) recognition of the need to cultivate affection for the multiplicity and variety of traditional life and custom, in opposition to the narrow and reductionist ideologies of equalitarian and utilitarian social schemes; 3) order and class must be accepted as natural and necessary prerequisites for social harmony; 4) the connection between property and freedom is inseparable and economic leveling undermines economic growth; 5) preference for prescription, tradition and sound prejudice over grand social theories of alienated intellectuals whose ideas, when applied as public policy, free man's anarchic impulses; 6) change is not identical to reform.
Dr. Russell Kirk persistently engaged contemporary liberalism in an articulate and intelligent manner not merely to criticize his foes but to provide a positive alternative that justified the preservation of what he called the 'permanent things' while letting loose the power of the 'moral imagination.' His Catholic sacramental vision brought to the printed page a view of humanity that was colorful and mysterious, composed of a panoply of traditions and customs guided by natural law. Constantly threatened, this richness of Truth he devoted his whole life to defend.
Hero of Liberty image attribution: The Imaginative Conservative [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons