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Russell Kirk: A Critical Biography of a Conservative Mind

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Russell Kirk: A Critical Biography of a Conservative Mind [Hardcover]

James E. Person
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

At the end of this laudatory study, Person notes that when several leading conservatives were asked who the greatest progenitors of modern conservatism were, all named Russell Kirk (1918^-94), whose Conservative Mind (1953; 7th ed., 1986) was the foundational text of the post^-World War II conservative revival. Kirk, the son of a railroad engineer and a homemaker, wrote the book after quitting Michigan State in disgust with the university's promotion of sports and career training at the expense of the liberal arts curriculum. Subsequently, he pursued a career in writing and lecturing on politics, literature (including a major book on his friend T. S. Eliot), academic freedom, and economics. He also wrote supernatural fiction informed by his Catholic faith, married in middle age, fathered four daughters, and opened the large, old family house to a small platoon of students and people who needed shelter. Person surveys and analyzes Kirk's writings and thought with such enthusiasm and so appealingly that many readers may conclude that another conservative revival is devoutly to be wished for. Ray Olson

From Kirkus Reviews

A concise, lucid tour of the writings and wide-ranging ideas of the American regarded in many quarters as ``the founder of the modern conservative movement.'' Person (Senior Editor, Gale Research) argues, however, that Russell Kirk (1918-94) should be viewed not as an ideologue but as a man of letters. It's true that his 1953 study The Conservative Mind identified a line of conservative thought stretching back to 18th-century England, isolated certain social and political theories that could be termed ``conservative,'' and asserted the continuing relevance of a coherent body of thought opposed to large government and insisting on the moral primacy (and responsibilities) of the individual. But Kirk, Person points out, steered clear of any deep involvement in Republican politics. He was, first and foremost, a writer, producing during a lengthy career ``32 books, 800 essays, book reviews, and articles, and more than 3,000 newspaper and magazine columns.'' His books, some of them pugnacious in their historical assertions and contemporary criticisms, included biographies (Edmund Burke), histories (The Roots of American Order), literary and social criticism (Enemies of the Permanent Things, Eliot and His Age), political theory (A Program for Conservatives), and critiques of contemporary education (Decadence and Renewal in the Higher Learning). Person devotes chapters to each of these areas, explicating Kirk's theories in these fields while stressing the extent to which each was part of an ambitious attempt to apply conservative principles to most elements of social life. A brief but admiring sketch of Kirk's life stresses the extent to which he practiced the humane conservatism he preached. The subtitle is somewhat confusing: This is not so much a biography of a conservative's thoughts as a thoughtful analysis of the arguments advanced in each of Kirk's major books. Given Kirk's influence on the concepts that many contemporary conservatives claim to embrace, his work will surely continue to be both influential and controversial. Person offers an excellent guide to his legacy. (15 b&w photos) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.


Deft, informative, and amazingly comprehensive; friendly to its subject but not slavishly so. (The University Bookman)

[Person's] book represents a signal contribution to Kirk scholarship. (Chronicles)
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