March 21, 2018

THE OPPOSITE OF THE rIGHT:

Russell Kirk at 100: In an age of crass politics, remembering the man who laid American conservatism's roots. (BRADLEY J. BIRZER, March 20, 2018, American Conservative)

Almost as soon as Kirk entered Michigan State College as an undergraduate in 1936, Professor John Abbott Clark took him under his care and introduced him not just to the profoundly important but already neglected works of Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, but to Socratic and Ciceronian humanism as a fundamental part of the Western tradition. During his college years, Kirk combined his love of romantic literature, the humanist ideals of Babbitt and More, and the stoic wisdom of his grandfather into what would be recognized by 1953 as modern conservatism. While earning an M.A. in history at Duke in 1940 and 1941, Kirk also discovered an intense love of Edmund Burke, whom he'd encountered through Babbitt and More in college but only indirectly. It was while writing his M.A. thesis on the rabid Southern republican John Randolph of Roanoke that Kirk first felt the influence of the greatest of the 18th-century Anglo-Irish statesmen. Though many scholars--from Daniel Boorstin to Leo Strauss to Peter Stanlis--were also re-discovering Burke (along with Alexis de Tocqueville) in the 1940s, it was Kirk's 1953 work, The Conservative Mind, that would once again make Burke a household name in America and, to a lesser extent, in Great Britain.

By the time America entered World War II, a very young Kirk--rather enthusiastically Nockian and anarchistic--already despised Franklin Roosevelt for his mistreatment of ethnic and religious minorities at home and abroad and his militarization of the American economy. As much as Kirk hated Hitler, he did not see FDR as a viable alternative. Succumbing to the draft in the late summer of 1942, Russell Amos Kirk, B.A., M.A., endured in the military the only way he knew how: by spending all of his free time reading. Before shipping off to training at Camp Custer in Michigan (he would spend much of the war as a company clerk in the desert wastes of Utah), Kirk purchased every work of Plato and the Stoics that he could find. From his childhood to his death, he kept a copy of Aurelius's Meditations close to him. As in the rest of his life, it would serve as his greatest comfort during the war. As he wrote in a personal letter, "everything in Christianity is Stoic":

Really, the highest compliment I can pay to the Greeks is that they could understand and admire the Stoics and admit their own inferiority. Were the Stoics to ask the moderns the rhetorical questions they asked the Greeks, the moderns also would accept the questions as rhetorical--but would answer them in exactly the opposite manner.

In imitation of Aurelius, his own war diaries attempted to describe the world around him through the lens of the Greek and Roman-adopted Logos, the eternal order of the universe. "'Nothing is good but virtue'--Zeno" Kirk scrawled across the cover of his first diary.

After-Donald the GOP will have to return to Conservatism to stay relevant.


Posted by at March 21, 2018 6:39 AM

  

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