Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Russell Kirk (1918-1994)

Thanks to a good friend I have recently been exposed to the writings of a very profound, yet not very well known, Catholic thinker. To anyone who cares, I highly recommend "The Politics of Prudence." This book is essentially a collection of essays written by Russell Kirk and was published in the '90's by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (which incidentally is most likely one of the last vestiges of true academic learning in the United States today). This book is an excellent starting point for anyone who is interested in understanding the political and cultural world around them and is a great example of what constitutes true conservativism. Russell Kirk's references to other written works alone is reason enough to read this book. The numerous references to great Western writers provides the reader with a mini-anthology of every thinking person's must reads. The book is very easy to read and it does an excellent job of explaining in simple and easy to understand terms the dangers of modern western ideologies such as modern liberalism, neo-conservatism, and libertarianism. A copy of the book is available for purchase here:

Now putting the above introduction aside for a moment, I just now came accross an excellent article written by Russell Kirk in 1958 entitled "Cultural Debris: A Mordant Last Word." A copy of the article can be found here: http://www.mmisi.org/ir/30_01/kirk.pdf.

Given the times in which we live, I thought this article was particularly relevant, and given that it was written in the '50's, one would have to say amazingly prescient as well. Note how Kirk identifies "three great bodies of principle and conviction" which are essential to a good society and which were essential to bringing about the rise of the Western tradition. And note further how these three great bodies have all but been destroyed over the course of the last forty years and how whatever remnant presently remains is going to face an all out assault by this Obama administration in the coming years.
Russell Kirk wrote:
"[I]t seems to me that there are three great bodies of principle and conviction uniting what is called modern civilization. The first of these is the Christian faith: theological and moral doctrines which inform us, either side of the Atlantic, of the nature of God and man, the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, human dignity, the rights and duties of human persons, the nature of charity, and the meaning of hope and resignation. The second of these is the corpus of imaginative literature, humane letters, which is the essence of our high culture: humanism, which, with Christian faith, teaches us our powers and our limitations -- the work of Plato, Vergil, Cicero, Dante, Shakespeare, and so many others. The third is a complex of social and political institutions which we may call the reign of law, or ordered liberty: prescription, precedent, impartial justice, private rights, private property, the character of genuine community, the claims of the family and of voluntary association. However much these three bodies of conviction have been injured by internecine disputes, nihilism, Benthamism, the cult of Rationalism, Marxism, and other modern afflictions, they remain the rocks upon which our civilization is built."
The beauty and truth of the above quote is in my opinion indisputable. The above statement is a fact of life and the general collapse and decay of our modern society is just more evidence that this age old belief, summarized so succinctly by Mr. Kirk, is as true today as it was when St. Thomas wrote his Summa. The atheists have destroyed America's Christian foundation, the educators have destroyed our "corpus of imaginative literature," and the Marxists have destroyed our social and political institutions. As a result our country no longer has a God, our people are ignorant fools, and our government is broken. America at the current rate will cease to exist in its current form in fifty years.
So what do we do? I would suggest that we all just work hard on doing whatever we can in our daily lives to rebuild the three pillars of society. For me I guess that means being the very best Catholic father, husband and parishioner I can be, work hard to educate myself and my children in the classical western tradition, and lastly, not lose hope at the current state of America's politics and continue to insist that our politicians bring things back to a local level in line with the Church's teachings on the notion of "subsidiarity."



Blogger byronfrombyron said...

My first exposure to Mr. Kirk was his John Randolph of Roanoke, which is really only about half his work and half a collection of Mr. Randolph's. I highly recommend that book, as well as Sir Henry Sumner Maine's Popular Government. Sir Henry was also a Catholic, fyi.

4:06 AM  
Blogger Theophilus said...

Thanks for the link, Confiteor. A stunning text indeed.

4:40 AM  

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