What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

New Kirk collection.


ISI Books has brought out a rich new collection of Russell Kirk’s writings: The Essential Russell Kirk, edited by George A. Panichas. It will serve nicely as an introduction to one of the great but greatly neglected men of American Letters. A Conservative truly and a gentleman, Kirk influenced the postwar history of the Republic — though his usual position was in dissent — in inscrutable but profound ways. The breadth of his reflections, the careful elegance of his style, the depth of his erudition, the joy and gratitude in his heart, and his candor about the crisis that confronts modern man: each is robustly demonstrated in this volume.

Kirk will ever be associated with the name Edmund Burke: for that alone — for reviving interest in the greatest Conservative of the modern age — he would be justly memorialized. But he accomplished much more. He brought the word ideology under the obloquy it so richly deserved, turning hundreds of aspiring Conservatives away from this ruinous intoxicant. In his fiction as well as his essays, he subtly emphasized the mystery of life on this earth, the ineradicable duality of man, caught as he is between his animal nature and his longings for the supernatural. He revitalized interest in other worthy figures: the fascinating and enigmatic John Randolph of Roanoke, the House of Representative’s greatest orator; the intellectual peregrinator Orestes Brownson, once given the astonishing honor of the title “an American Newman”; the forgotten traditionalists of the interwar years, Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More; and many more.

The most basic need of man, according to Russell Kirk, is order. Discovering, illuminating and defending the principles of American order was his vocation, which he carried out with grace, wit and intrepidity — as the reader of this volume will discover forthwith.

Comments (2)

Russell Kirk is certainly worth studying for his curiously long-lasting influence on modern American conservative thought. But he was more a poet than a philosopher. His conservatism was one of temperament, as he himself would be the first to say. This deficiency is nowhere better seen than in the strange hodge-podge of figures he collected into the pantheon presented in his Conservative Mind—not only the obscure writers you mention (and others) but Alexander Hamilton, John C. Calhoun, John Henry Newman, Benjamin Disraeli, and T.S. Eliot all rubbing shoulders together. His conservatism was historical and unprincipled—foreign to America and with little to teach those who would preserve it.

Kirk may have been more a poet than a philosopher, but why does it follow that a poet has less to teach us than a philosopher?

Why, further, must a "historical" Conservatism be "unprincipled"? Kirk's work sought to introduce the reader to real men, working in different circumstances in different lands and different times. That they would fail to congeal into a smooth narrative answering to easily-identifiable principles is hardly surprising.

Kirk's more systematic work -- and his best, in my view -- is The Roots of American Order. His narrative there is marvelous in its simplicity and clarity. It amounts to a history of the Western mind, from the perspective of an American mindful of his heritage. Merely historical again, I suppose. But a wise friend once told me many years ago that historians are more trustworthy than philosophers, and I agree.

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