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The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot Paperback – September 1, 2001
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"A profound critique of contemporary mass society, and a vivid and poetic image - not a program, an image - of how that society might better itself. [ The Conservative Mind ] is, in important respects, the twentieth century's own version of the Reflections on the Revolution in France... [Kirk] was an artist, a vsionary, almost a prophet." - DAVID FRUM, author of Dead Right
"I have been one of your fans since the time many years ago when I read The Conservative Mind." - RICHARD NIXON
"Dr. Russell Kirk's impact on conservative thought and policy in America has been decisive. It was his writings, and in particular his seminal work, The Conservative Mind, that laid the foundation for many of the ideas that continue to shape public discourse and debate to this day." - JOHN ENGLER, former Governer of Michigan
"Kirk is assured a place of prominence in the intellectual histories for helping to define the ethical basis of conservatism. He has tried to pull conservatism away from the utilitarian premises of libertarianism, toward which conservatism often veers, toward a philosophy rooted in ethics and culture." - THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind is one of the greatest contributions to twentieth-century American conservatism. Brilliant in every respect, from its conception to its choice of significant figures representing the history of intellectual conservatism, The Conservative Mind launched the modern American Conservative Movement when it was first published in 1953 and has become an enduring classic of political thought.
The seventh revised edition features the complete text and an introduction by publisher Henry Regnery.
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"Kirk tells his story of the conservative stream with the warmth that belongs to it. Even Americans who do not agree may feel the warmth--and feel, perhaps, the wonder of conservative intuition and prophecy, speaking resonantly across the disappointing decades."
"Mr. Kirk has marshaled an impressive list of American and British conservative thinkers: men who are reacting against the collectivist universe on battlegrounds ranging from party politics to religion."
--Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, Commonweal
"Prof. Kirk has succeeded remarkably well in distilling the essence from the voluminous writings of these men and in conveying the spirit of their thinking to his reader and a style that is never dull and often exciting."
--John H. Hallowell, The Journal of Politics
From the Inside Flap
-- David Frum, author of Dead Right
"Kirk is assured a place of prominence in the intellectual histories for helping to define the ethical basis of conservatism. He has tried to pull conservatism away from the utilitarian premises of libertarianism, toward which conservatism often veers, toward a philosophy rooted in ethics and culture."
-- The Wall Street Journal
"I have been one of your fans since the time many years ago when I read The Conservative Mind."
-- Richard Nixon
- ASIN : 0895261715
- Publisher : Regnery Gateway; 7th Revised edition (September 1, 2001)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 534 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780895261717
- ISBN-13 : 978-0895261717
- Item Weight : 1.57 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #60,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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century, namely Richard Weaver, Robert Nisbet and Russell Kirk. Kirk presents the tradition of
Anglo-American conservatism, going back to the time of Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville.
He then alternates between what's going on in England and what's going on in America with
regard to conservative principles, looking at figures like Calhoun, Disraeli, Orestes Brownson
and John Henry Newman. A key point in this book is the importance of "The Adams Family".
While conservatives usually look to Alexander Hamilton, he was more about northern industry
and big business. Adams was more of a cultural conservative, and Kirk views John Adams as
the American version of Edmund Burke, not on the same level, but similar. John Quincy Adams,
Henry Adams and Charles Adams were all great thinkers, and were correctly pessimistic that
their long-prominent family in America was declining in influence with each generation.
If I understand correctly, the book originally ended with George Santayana, but Kirk added
a reflection on T.S. Eliot and conservative poets like Yeats and Robert Frost, among others.
This terribly eloquent final chapter may well bring you to tears of beauty, and I'd like to quote
from it at length, from pages 492 to 497.
As Eliot wrote in his essay on Francis Herbert Bradley, "If we take the widest and wisest view
of a cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained
Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface
to our successors' victory, though that victory itself may be temporary; we fight rather to keep
something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph". In every period, some will endeavor
to pull down the permanent things, and others will defend them manfully.
No less than politicians do, great poets move nations, even though the generality of men may not
know the poets' names. When the chief poet and critic of the century sets his hand to "redeeming
the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and
rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide"-why, it is conceivable that he may undo Marx
and Freud, not to mention captains and kings.
Certainly some poets have been radicals: there is the Promethean defiance of Shelley. Just past
the summit of the romantics' revolutionary enthusiasm, Shelley was answered by Coleridge,
Wordsworth, Southey and Scott; while even Byron thought Shelley's first principles nonsensical.
Every age is out of joint, in the sense that man and society never are what they ought to be; and
the poet senses that he is born to set the time right-not, however, by leading a march to some New
Jerusalem, but by rallying in his art to the permanent things.
The emphasis of Milton upon ordered liberty; the politics of Dryden, anticipating Burke's; the Tory
principles of Swift and Pope; the doctrines of ordination and subordination, so strong in Johnson;
the conservative Christian humanism of Coleridge; Yeats' passionate attachment to tradition and
continuity-these are so many instances of the point.
A Tory poet, Kipling, prophesied that the gods of the copybook headings with fire and slaughter
would return; and so have they come among us again, and they smite with increasing fury. A chastened
generation looks for the principles of order. The skies grow dark, and sober counsels obtain a hearing;
as Chesterton wrote in The Ballad of the White Horse-
The wise men know what wicked things
Are written on the sky,
They trim sad lamps, they touch sad strings,
Hearing the heavy purple wings,
Where the forgotten seraph kings
still plot how God shall die.
Yet such champions of orthodoxy as Chesterton go gaily in the dark. Not to the romantic liberal
enthusiast, nor to the glowering proletarian poet, nor to the versifying nihilist, can a chastened
generation turn. They must look, instead, to the poetic defenders of normality, though for a time
such poets lay under a cloud.
Nothing is but thinking makes it so. If men of affairs can rise to the summons of the poets, the norms
of culture and politics may endure despite the follies of the time. The individual is foolish; but the
species is wise; and so the thinking conservative appeals to what Chesterton called "the democracy
of the dead". Against the hubris of the ruthless innovator, the conservative of imagination pronounces
They that do change old love for new,
Pray gods they change for worse.
It is the political idealists, the social planners, who can narrow all of the questions of policy into a tidy grid. But true conservatives have always been broad thinkers. They have understood that different situations call for varied policies.
Kirk tells us on page 8 that conservatives have always had: "Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems; conservatives resist what Robert Graves calls "Logicalism" in society. This prejudice has been called "the conservatism of enjoyment"--a sense that life is worth living."
The above quote is a neat summary of the book. Conservatives have adopted different types of damage control in response to differing situations. This book shows the problems that the conservatives faced and how they sought to preserve freedom and security, to be faithful to the time-tested methods of securing property rights and individual freedoms, and how they warded off the seductive calls for utopianism. "Men not being angels, a terrestrial paradise cannot be contrived by metaphysical enthusiasts; yet an earthly hell can be arranged readily enough by ideologues of one stamp or another."
The book chronicles what it looks like for conservatives to ward off ideologues of one stamp or another as they seek to impose their tyranny for everyone's good in pursuit of their utopia. Conservatives' strategies vary depending on the unique philosophical assault. The book is long because we live in a fallen world and humanity has an enemy. Satan's nefarious schemes morph and progress from one degree of evil to another.
Wisdom is not content with one 3 X 5 card of principles but wisdom patiently learns from other brave souls in the past, about how they faced the giants of their day with courage and how they gained victories. The patient reader will find ample conservative courageous examples applicable to modern-day encounters with idealism.
One last thought. 8 out of the Bible's 10 commandments are prohibitive: "Thou shalt not..." (Honor your parents and keep the Sabbath are the only 2 that are prescriptive.) This gives us great freedom in life. We can have the occupation that we choose, we can marry whom we choose (in the Lord), we can live where we choose, the world is our oyster, provided we don't worship other gods, lie, kill, steal, commit adultery, and covet.
The left has the very opposite agenda. They are "liberal" (meaning freedom-loving) in the few areas where God is prohibitive. They are liberal when it comes to murder (abortion), adultery (free love movement), stealing (socialism), and have built an entire economic system based solely on coveting. But they want to control every last area of your life (for your good) while encouraging you to celebrate how free you are from the few things that God requires you not to do.
The way to combat the enemies of freedom will vary and this book will arm any thoughtful person with a lifetime of sound principles, examples, and inspiration on how to approach the problems in this complicated and beautiful world we inhabit.
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As such, it's a very useful dip into what I understand is quite a weighty tome. It's cohetently put together, and gives an excellent summary of the original text (I assume). If you only have an hour to spare and want to cover all the salient points in 'The Conservative Mind', then this is the book for you.
But it really ought to be advertised as a primer and not as the definitive text.