Re: How Important Is Kirk?

by Jonathan H. Adler

Count me among those who has always thought Russell Kirk was overrated.  Nonetheless, I think Jonah’s correspondent is too quick to read Russell Kirk out of the founding pantheon of post-WWII American conservatism.  Kirk had a huge influence on several generations of conservatives.  Nonetheless, Jonah’s correspondent does raise an important point.  While Kirk sought to document a conservative strain in American political thought, he was also hostile to some of the foundational “liberal” ideals upon which the nation was founded, including the assertion of inalienable God-given rights (or, for that matter, virtually any immutable principle).  Whereas some conservative thinkers, such as Frank Meyer, sought to tie American conservatism to ideas and principles that were, in some respects, distinctly American, Kirk sought to reach back to European conservatism and transplant it onto American soil.  This is one reason I suspect that, in the long run, Kirk’s influence may well decline as I don’t believe his work speaks as directly to the American political experience as does some others.

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