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The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot Paperback – September 1, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A fine study of conservative thought in politics, religion, philosophy and literature"

"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 Back Cover

"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 visionary, almost a prophet."
— 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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 535 pages
  • Publisher: Regnery Publishing; 7th Revised edition (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0895261715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0895261717
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
You don't have to be a Conservative to like this book. I found it very useful in understanding the basic worldview from which a Conservative might operate; and from that, one can make good assumptions as to how Conservatives view Liberals. Kirk's thinking is profound, his reading extensive, and his arguments well-written. The major points I took away from this discussion are:
1) The Conservative assumes that the design of the world is not by accident, but by transcendental purpose. Metaphysical, permanent standards of Right and Wrong exist: moral standards are not relative. Similarly, the structure of society is not arbitrary. We should not attempt to alter society using science or social engineering, because we are strictly human, and our understanding is limited. Change, when it happens, should be modulated in such a way as to limit its effects on society.
2) A "natural aristocracy" exists in any society. It consists of the best and brightest individuals, and perhaps those born with reserves of wealth. No legislation or voter majority can eliminate it. John Adams defines a member of the natural aristocracy (in a Democracy) as anyone who has the power to influence at least one vote other than his own.
3) Individuals are born with certain Natural Rights, consisting primarily of property rights. Government should always act to protect property rights, especially in a Democracy, where the poorest elements of society may employ their voting power to redistribute the possessions of the wealthy few. A Democracy that gives unmitigated power to the people quickly deteriorates into the worst kind of tyranny.
4) Instincts and prejudices frequently have meaning: the individual may be foolsh, but the species is wise.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book is a sort of intellectual history, each chapter summarizing the thought of one to three conservative thinkers, more or less chronologically beginning with Edmund Burke and running through poets of the mid twentieth century (T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, among others). The thinkers discussed include intellectuals, clergymen, politicians and poets, all thinking, working and writing in the Anglo-American sphere (most are in fact British or American, but the exceptions -- Tocqueville and Santayana -- wrote in America or for American audiences). A good working knowledge of British and American history from the French Revolution through World War II is therefore a helpful prerequisite to understanding many of these thinkers.
The summaries are interesting and informative as description. Many of them (the chapters on Burke and John Adams, for instance, or the section on John Henry Newman) make great introductions to figures whose work can't be read in comprehensive political treatises and many provide intriguing introductions to writers you have probably never heard of (Sir James Fitzjames Stephen) or to the thought of people whom you don't know as political thinkers (say, John Randolph or Arthur Balfour).
Among the wealth of description, a little prescription creeps in. Kirk's heroes don't "argue" -- they "know," they "perceive," they "realize," they "understand." Kirk is highly sympathetic with the ideas he summarizes, and it is no coincidence that his final chapter, on twentieth century poets, is called "Conservatives' Promise" and contains some of the most hopeful writing in the book.
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Format: Hardcover
Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind is a catalog of the thoughts of men, both British and American, whom Kirk regarded as eminent (albeit sometimes obscure) conservatives. They range in historical sequence from Edmund Burke (1729-1797) to contemporary scholars. Although this book is not an instruction manual for conservative politicians and activists, it will provide conservatives with both a clear understanding of conservatism's basic principles and a cogent defense of those principles. One of the major insights that this book offered was the central role of religion in society: Revealed religion is the source of Western morality; law was created to enforce that morality; the state enforces the law, so the state is an instrument of religion. Another insight was the hubris of nineteenth and twentieth century reformers, who thought that they could legislate happiness and freedom, but who instead created industrial slums and domineering central governments. The overall tone of the work is pessimistic, often despairing: the repeated theme is that from an idyllic, aristocratic, agricultural society united under Christianity the world has decayed to a lonely, atomized, atheistic, cold-blooded industrial society. In the face of such decline, the conservative can only try to salvage or resurrect bits of traditional society -- manners, customs, faith in Providence, etc. Again, the book is of limited practical value: The author's aim is merely to define conservatism, which he does explicitly only in chapter one. He offers neither explicit criteria for distinguishing desirable from undesirable change, nor strategies for forestalling the latter.Read more ›
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