The University Bookman

 
 

Fall 2012

Editor’s Note

A Forward-Thinking Conservatism

There has been much commentary concerning a recent David Brooks editorial that in turn cites Rod Dreher’s article on what it means to be a conservative. Both Brooks and Dreher return to Kirk and his ten principles of conservatism, to define what Brooks describes as the lost half of the “conservative mind.” That half is concerned primarily to conserve what is best in our religious, social, and cultural traditions, and less so with Brooks’s other half, the free-market economic determinism that so often passes for “conservatism.”

Brooks and Dreher are right to focus on Kirk’s traditionalism, his respect for custom and limits, and his rejection of economics as the end of life. His ten principles remain valid today as ever. Yet that is not the whole story, for it creates the temptation to see Kirk as a reactionary figure with little to offer contemporary politics. If he was a reactionary, it was of a decidedly forward-thinking kind. In the 1950s, Kirk was already arguing that liberalism was dead; the age that was to replace it—what he called the age of the Image—was upon us, and the true battle was for the imagination. In that sense, both conservative and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, are heirs to the post-liberal order that has emerged since the 1980s, when a market-fueled libertarian “right” is joined to a choice-happy “left,” with few noticing the mutations of language and politics that have resulted; aside from Kirk, others who identified the same themes are Wilson Carey McWilliams and Christopher Lasch, neither particularly conservative as we now understand that term. Instead, both sides argue within a narrow framework defined by the market and individual rights.

Rather, as early as 1982, Kirk was suggesting that “the Post-Modern imagination stands ready to be captured. And the seemingly novel ideas and sentiments and modes may turn out, after all, to be received truths and institutions, well known to surviving conservatives.” With liberalism moribund, it “may be the conservative imagination which is to guide the Post-Modern Age.” As I have tried to argue, Kirk was creating an imaginative and rhetorical space to work out alternatives to an individualistic liberalism that is now just as much part of the Republican Party as it is of the Democrats. It is a lesson Republicans could usefully relearn.  

Gerald J. Russello

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Editor’s Notes.

Did you see this one?

Richard John Neuhaus, RIP
Gerald J. Russello, Editor
Website Exclusives (2009)

A poor man, if he has dignity, honesty, the respect of his neighbors, a realization of his duties, a love of the wisdom of his ancestors, and possibly some taste for knowledge or beauty, is rich in the unbought grace of life.

Russell Kirk

Share

Subscribe & Follow

RSS

More from the Bookman!

book cover book cover book cover


Hitchens: A Look at a Skeptic
Spencer Case

An American Arcadia Made Accessible
Sarah Phelps Smith

Our Real Constitution—And What Happened to It
Allen Mendenhall

Endo and the Challenge of Orthodoxy
Lee Oser

A Guide to the Nightmare Countries
Kenneth Hite

The Art of Sinking in Poetry
Greg Morrison


book cover book cover book cover

News

The University Bookman is joining Fordham University in hosting the award-winning poet and critic A. M. Juster on Monday, February 6, 2017 at 6:00pm on Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus (McMahon Hall, Rm. 109; use the entrance on West 60th Street and Columbus Avenue in Manhattan). Juster will speak on “Riddles, Elegies, and Satires: Adventures in Translation.” The event is free and open to the public and registration is not required. We are also planning a second event in May on the humanities. Watch this space for more details. (27 Dec 2016)

Other Sites of Interest

Publisher Sites

 

Copyright © 2007–2016 The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal