June 20, 2008


The Conservative Mind (W. Wesley McDonald, 06/16/08, First Principles)

[W]hen the bulk of established intellectuals were prepared to dismiss conservatism as a permanently discredited ideology, [Russell] Kirk’s rediscovery and articulation of a viable intellectual conservative tradition in the English-speaking world restored credibility to a body of ideas once airily dismissed as the mere bleatings of bourgeois Babbitts. By defining and applying its principles to modern challenges, he fortified and strengthened the conservative position. He demonstrated in a compelling fashion that conservatism is an integral part of the Western political tradition.

Lastly, Kirk was writing a history of conservative ideas, the first historian to attempt such a task. But his intent was more than historical: it was didactic and polemical. The rationalism of the philosophes, the romantic idealism of the Rousseauists, Benthamism, positivism, Marxism, Social Darwinism, pragmatism, and socialism were among the ideologies he condemned as inimical to the social order of the post-1789 world. From them sprang the belief in the perfectibility of man, enthusiasm for social and economic leveling, the impulse for innovation coinciding with a concomitant contempt of tradition, the denial of the power of Providence in history, and the rejection of what Eliot called “the permanent things,” those enduring moral norms that make civilized social existence possible. Against the proponents of radical innovation, Kirk enthusiastically defended tradition, old values, and prescriptive establishments.

The book had an immediate impact. At the suggestion of Whittaker Chambers, Time magazine devoted its entire book review section to The Conservative Mind. Numerous other journals and newspapers, including the New York Times, published reviews praising or at the least expressing respect for the book. As the book’s publisher, Henry Regnery, noted, after Kirk’s volume appeared “one could call himself a conservative without apology.”

The Conservative Mind is one of those books where you envy those who haven't read it their opportunity to do so for the first time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at June 20, 2008 6:45 AM

I read that book after I, among other liberal pursuits, had worked for a Democrat congressman, dated a girl who worked for David Corn of the Nation, and then when I moved to New York, dated a woman who worked for the New York Review of Books.

I always had cranky problems with much of liberal dogma, and that book made me realize that the conservative mind was mine.

Posted by: Twn at June 20, 2008 10:38 AM
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