Russell Kirk, author of The Conservative Mind and A Program for Conservatives, has been regarded as one of the foremost figures of the post–World War II revival in conservative thought. While numerous commentators on contemporary political thought have acknowledged his considerable influence on the substance and direction of American conservatism, no analysis of his social and political writing has dealt extensively with the philosophical foundations of his work.
In this provocative study, W. Wesley McDonald examines those foundations and demonstrates their impact on the conservative intellectual movement that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. Kirk played a pivotal role in drawing conservatism away from the laissez-faireprinciplesoflibertarianism and toward those of a traditional community grounded in a renewed appreciation of man’s social and spiritual nature and the moral prerequisites of genuine liberty. In a humane social order, a community of spirit is fostered in which generations are bound together. According to Kirk, this link is achieved through moral and social norms that transcend the particularities of time and place and, because they form the basis of genuine civilized existence, can only be neglected at great peril. These norms, reflected in religious dogmas, traditions, humane letters, social habit and custom, and prescriptive institutions, create the sources of the true community that is the final end of politics.
Although this study does not challenge Kirk’s debts to a predominantly Catholic and Anglo-Catholic tradition of natural law, its focus is on his appeal to historical experience as the test of sound institutions. This aspect of his thought was essential to Kirk’s understanding of moral, cultural, and aesthetic norms and can be seen in his responses to American humanists Paul Elmer More and Irving Babbitt and to English and American romantic literature.
Russell Kirk and the Age of Ideology is particularly relevant because of the growing interest in Kirk’s legacy and the current debate over the meaning of conservatism. McDonald addresses both of those developments in the context of examining Kirk’s thought, attempting to correct some of the inadequacies contained in earlier studies that assess Kirk as a political thinker. This book will serve as a significant contribution to the commentary on this fascinating figure.