We are pleased to present a review of Brad Birzer’s important book, Russell Kirk: American Conservative, and we will have more to say on the book in the future. Conservatism is in disarray. I write this in the aftermath of the Iowa caucus which followed weeks of infighting among both the conservative candidates and the conservative establishment. As yet, there is no candidate who has formulated a clear conservative vision for the country, placing the nation at risk to a loss to either a corporatist liberal or an avowed socialist.
Kirk would have seen the resent circumstance as a failure of imagination. Politics may be for the “quarter-educated,” as he once snapped, but it also can be an important way to organize our common life. Over more than two dozen books and thousands of essays and reviews, Kirk articulated what that common life might look like, drawing on the inherited intellectual and political tradition of the West. For some years, that tradition has been in the doldrums. And it is not untrue to say that, although there are exceptions, the nation is far more tenuously connected to the better parts of that tradition than it may ever have been. In this respect, the critique of “mainstream” conservatism has force; for many Americans, their world is less stable and less protective of their way of life than, say, in 1980. Kirk, who was never completely of that world, as Birzer explains, provides a counterpoint for a different conservative vision.
Birzer’s book is therefore especially welcome because it brings back into view not a political happy warrior, but a joyful Christian humanist. Kirk knew that all ages, even that of a seemingly omnipotent progressive liberalism, end. In this postmodern age, Kirk is finding a new generation of readers across the intellectual spectrum, longing for the permanent things. Birzer’s Kirk is in this sense an important instrument for renewal of conservatism, and also of the imagination Kirk so ably defended.