Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind was published sixty years ago this summer. The University Bookman has asked a distinguished group of writers and scholars to comment on the book and its continuing importance to American intellectual debate.
When Kirk published his book, conservatism was a scattered and perhaps largely unarticulated position. It has since become an industry and a “movement,” but its social and intellectual results are at times hard to identify. Its political expression, the Republican Party, now seems to favor easy mass immigration and endless war, which for conservatives of Kirk’s stripe are recipes for cultural disintegration and suffocating government power. In many ways, as some of these selections indicate, the Republican Party has seen little need for Kirk for some years; yet, as Lee Edwards notes here, Kirk’s conservatism shook liberalism to its core, and can still do so, since it represents a vision diametrically opposed to the ideology and hubris of modernity.
Indeed, seen from the vantage point of six decades, Kirk has more in common with some liberal critics, such as Christopher Lasch, Philip Rieff, and Wilson Carey McWilliams, in representing what could be called a Midwestern Americanism of small communities, small government, and little international intrigue. Kirk’s most important book was, as he described it, an analysis of a way of looking at the civil social order, not a set of policy prescription. Unlike many conservatives, Kirk knew cultural stability did not lay in party platforms or Supreme Court opinions, or at least not in those alone. The contributions to our symposium explore how Kirk’s creative re-imagining of a tradition—beginning with the Whig Edmund Burke and ending in Kirk’s volume with the Anglo-American poet T. S. Eliot, and continuing through today with thinkers such as those we have gathered here, as well as such friends as Bill Kauffman—can still shape the country’s discourse, and how even those who do not share Kirk’s Burkeanism nevertheless should engage with the strain of conservative thought he represents.
We have nine distinguished contributors:
- Bruce P. Frohnen: The Deeper Roots of Social Order
- Daniel McCarthy: The Needs of Modernity’s Orphans
- Steven P. Millies: A Problem of Definition
- George H. Nash: An Excursion into the Broader World
- Lee Edwards: Life Is Worth Living
- Drew Maciag: Reflections of a Conservative Liberal
- W. Wesley McDonald: What Is the Legacy of ‘The Conservative Mind’?
- James E. Person Jr.: The Joyful Conservative
- Bradley J. Birzer: The Personalism of The Conservative Mind
Russell Kirk’s most widely read book is The Conservative Mind, first published in 1953. The Bookman has asked a distinguished group of writers to participate in a symposium on its legacy and why Kirk’s thought is worth engaging today.