August 2, 2018

POST-MODERNISM WAS JUST...:

RUSSELL KIRK & POSTMODERN CONSERVATISM (Gerald J. Russello, 10 . 24 . 08, fIRST tHINGS)

Kirk was criticized, then and later, for writing in an anachronistic style, one not suited to confronting the seemingly rationalist arguments of liberalism. In order to defend what they thought to be worth conserving, some conservatives believed that they had to engage liberalism on its own terms, in a "dialectic" mode that is foreign to the conservative language of custom and tradition. Kirk rejected this approach.

As early as the 1950s, he had become convinced that liberalism would exhaust itself because it could not inspire and sustain what he called the "moral imagination." For conservatives to buy into its premises would seal their defeat. Something else would replace liberalism eventually, and Kirk offered a richly imaginative vision of conservatism that could survive liberal modernity's collapse. One element of that vision was a revived respect for religious faith.

As early as 1982, in an essay for National Review , Kirk suggested that "the Post-Modern imagination stands ready to be captured. And the seemingly novel ideas and sentiments and modes [of postmodernism] may turn out, after all, to be received truths and institutions, well known to surviving conservatives." He went so far as to state that he thought that it "may be the conservative imagination which is to guide the Post-Modern Age." (One of the earliest uses of the word postmodern was by the conservative Episcopalian cleric Bernard Iddings Bell, in a book of that title published in 1926; not surprisingly, Bell was an early influence on Kirk.)

Kirk had little patience for the trendy radicalism and sometimes simply nonsensical expressions of postmodern hacks. Nonetheless, he saw in postmodernism a chance to escape the strictures of liberalism and reconnect with the older, pre-Enlightenment tradition of the West. This approach has its weaknesses--Kirk, for example, too often simply assumed the existence of historical continuity, and perhaps did not sufficiently confront the corrosive effects of liberalism on the kinds of social forces he believed could sustain tradition. Nevertheless, his work stands as a stark alternative to a much bleaker postmodern future.

Kirk's intellectual legacy remains widespread, if too often unacknowledged by the movement he helped create. Two of the journals he founded, the University Bookman and Modern Age , continue to appear, and his books remain in print. The localist writer Bill Kauffman has outlined a defense of regionalism that is very much in Kirk's spirit. Kauffman wants to reclaim the particularities of the American experience from the domination of big government and the monotone culture emanating from Hollywood, Washington, and New York. His lyrical prose elevates half-forgotten episodes and figures in American history and weaves them into a compelling counter-cultural story.

Scholars such as Robert Kraynak and Peter Augustine Lawler have followed Kirk in studying postmodernism through a traditionalist lens, and popular writers such as Rod Dreher, author of the provocative Crunchy Cons , draw from Kirk's writings to support a localist, organic lifestyle. Despite Kirk's suspicion of the cult of technology, a number of influential bloggers also look to him for inspiration in shaping their own conservative visions, rejecting purely utilitarian views of rationality and promoting the ideal of the "postmodern conservative" who transcends traditional political labels of left and right.

In addition, scholars like Barry Alan Shain, in their writings on early America, have confirmed Kirk's contention that that the colonies were not Lockean utopias expressing the values of modern political theory, but closely knit, highly religious Protestant villages for whom "Christian liberty" had real meaning. The world of the Founders was not, in other words, an earlier version of our own secular society.

...the left's roundabout way back to pre-modernism.

Posted by at August 2, 2018 7:42 PM

  

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