Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Radicalism of Russell Kirk

At last, over the summer, I made my pilgrimage to Piety Hill. Russell Kirk’s red brick mansion lords over the rust-bitten village of Mecosta, Michigan. The original wooden lodging was built in 1878 by his great-grandfather Amos Johnson. After it burned to the ground on Ash Wednesday 1975, he built this curious Italianate thing.

Two flintlock pistols hang over the mantle, flanking a helmet that looks as though it belonged to Genghis Khan. The dining room was built entirely from the scraps of a local parish church; pews were used for the roof, and statues of angels stand in niches behind Kirk’s old seat at the head of the table. He became Catholic in 1963, but the table in the drawing room was used by his spiritualist grandparents during their seances.

My guest house used to be haunted by his great-uncle Raymond (so Kirk’s 11-year-old grandson tells me) until a visiting priest convinced Ray he’d overstayed his welcome. The Sage of Mecosta’s 10,000-volume library, where he wrote the lion’s share of his essays and books, stands in a little ivy-strewn house adjacent to the main campus.

It is, as I said, a kind of holy place for me. I came to Kirk via T.S. Eliot, whose poetry I read obsessively as a freshman in high school. His longtime pen pal Kirk was my first introduction to politics. Ten years later and I remain a fairly unreconstructed Kirkian.

But what, exactly, is a “Kirkian”?

Hopefully one isn’t judging by the tributes that were written for Kirk’s centennial. Magazines from The Atlantic to Newsmax published eulogies for the Sage of Mecosta. Most of them cast him as a bit player in the founding of National Review—an eccentric, tweedy academic who somehow found himself near the vanguard of the Goldwater movement.

Even during Kirk’s lifetime, conservative officialdom began passing him off as a court philosopher in Ronald Reagan’s White House, existing only to cover the Gipper’s agenda with a patina of intellectual sophistication. Kirk liked Reagan well enough (as he ought to have), but he was not a Reaganite. This is clear to everyone who bothers to read his books. The set of principles and policy agendas that Kirk called “conservatism” bears virtually no resemblance to the ideology that exists under those auspices today.

[Read more at The American Conservative]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.