The Corner

Captain Kirk

Sorry about the silence on Russell Kirk all day. A few quick points before I have to put the kids to bed:

1. He’s not in the conservative pantheon because a cabal of traditionalists at ISI somehow snuck him in when nobody was looking. He’s there because conservatives of the Goldwater era put him there. If they say he was critically important to them because he helped identify a conservative intellectual heritage or for whatever reason, then that’s good enough for me. Is he less immediately relevant today? Perhaps. But he was fond of telling us that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Conservatives today stand on his shoulders.

2. Any modern-day conservative who appreciates Edmund Burke owes something to Russell Kirk, who played a crucial role in Burke’s 20th-century rehabilitation–and so Kirk gets to bask in some reflected Burkean glory.

3. To suggest that Kirk wasn’t influential because we can’t point to any particular policies that exist today due to him is to miss the point entirely. Kirk was never a policy advocate. He wasn’t even a theorist. He might be best understood as a literary figure. His work is the embodiment of a conservative sensibility. It would not shock me if, a century from now, he were more appreciated for his fiction than his nonfiction.

4. You want an excellent definition of conservatism? Start here. Discuss.

5. A great unwritten book: The biography of Russell Kirk, whose private papers remain virtually untapped.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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