by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon used the recent Oct. 19 centenary of Russell Kirk to consider how the influential conservative thinker would judge today’s conditions.
This almost-forgotten father of American conservatism gave the movement a name and an intellectual ancestry. How would he respond to the world of 2018?
My guess is he wouldn’t like it. With his capes, cravats, three-piece suits, pocket-watches, and walking sticks, Kirk belonged more to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than to the twentieth. He was a man out of time. His friends included T.S. Eliot, Ray Bradbury, Flannery O’Connor. His enemy was ideology—the attempt to reconstruct social order according to subjective, abstract, rationalist plans. His weapon in this battle was the “sword of imagination.” Infused with myth, poetry, history, and quotations from great works, Kirk’s prose was meant to elicit from his readers a sense of connection not only with other persons but also with generations past and generations to come. “My historical books, my polemical writings, my literary criticism, and even my fiction,” he wrote to his publisher Henry Regnery in 1987, “have been meant to resist the ideological passions that have been consuming civilization ever since 1914—what Arnold Toynbee calls our ‘time of troubles.'” …
… I understand now that in some ways my reaction confirmed Kirk and Weaver’s theses. They and other thinkers such as Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) and Leo Strauss (1899-1973) argued that we have moved so far from the traditional self-understanding of Western civilization that we are unable to recognize or comprehend it. Hence the task of the conservative intellectual, according to Kirk, was reawakening our sense of the past.