Friday, May 3, 2019

"A sworn enemy of ideology"

I have noted here before that my conservatism owes a great deal to having read books by Russell Kirk. This blog, in fact, has lots of entries about him. This review by Matthew Continetti is of one of his books that I don't recall ever reading:
In 1957, four years after his Conservative Mind had been published to great acclaim, Russell Kirk wrote a letter to former president Herbert Hoover. Kirk mentioned that he had a new book coming out in the spring. It would be, he said, “a species of retort against Bernard Shaw,” the author of The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism some decades before. Kirk’s title: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Conservatism.

That slim book has now been republished as Russell Kirk’s Concise Guide to Conservatism, with a new introduction by historian Wilfred M. McClay. It comes at an opportune moment. As McClay observes, “no one seems able to say with confidence just what ‘conservatism’ means today,” or what an American conservative ought to stand for. Perhaps Kirk can help.

Kirk was born 100 years ago and died in 1994. He would not be pleased with the current scene. Many conservatives, McClay says, have become ideologues dogmatically wedded to abstract principles. They ignore or oppose the particularities of history, tradition, faith, and community that constitute American society. Kirk, by contrast, was a sworn enemy of ideology. “It may well be, then,” McClay says, “that the transformation of a feckless, life-denying, and inhumane culture into something more consonant with our human endowment is the principal task facing conservatives and conservatism.” Easier said than done. ....

What Kirk offers conservatives is a point of view. He lends us a perspective by which to identify and defend the “permanent things” against those who seek to tear them asunder. He gifts us with a patrimony that begins with Edmund Burke and continues through to the “new humanist” critics of the 1920s and to the poetry and criticism of T.S. Eliot. Humane, literate, spiritual, elegiac, poetic, somewhat nostalgic, and constantly attuned to human weakness, Kirk’s prose evokes feelings of reverence, awe, and mutual loyalty. ....

Kirk says in the Concise Guide that conservatives believe: in a moral law “ordained of God”; in “variety and diversity” of economic stations and social types and roles; in equality of rights but not conditions; in private property; in decentralization and diffusion of power; in the wisdom of tradition; in civil society and voluntary associations; in skepticism toward foreign entanglement; in something like original sin or unchanging human nature; and in gradual reform of an otherwise stable order. ....

“I have said little enough about political economy,” Kirk explains, “principally because I think that economics has been overemphasized in our generation. I do not believe that the great contest in the modern world is simply between two theories of economics, ‘socialism’ and ‘capitalism,’ as Bernard Shaw tried to convince women a generation ago. No, I happen to think that the real struggle is between traditional society, with its religious and moral and political inheritance, and collectivism (under whatever name) with its passion for reducing humanity to a mere tapioca-pudding of identical producers and consumers.” .... (more)

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