by Bradley J. Birzer
Dear TIC readers,
When I submitted part five of the reactions/reviews to Kirk’s magisterial The Conservative Mind, I claimed it to be the final part.
I lied–but not with malicious intent.
I’d forgotten I still had a few more reviews in the stack. That, or I simply spaced the memory. If you’ve ever seen the chaos that is my home office, you’d understand. You might not appreciate it, but you’d understand. Sad, but true.
Regardless, here are a few more quotes from a few more original reviews. I’ve decided to name this 5.5 instead of six. In some bizarre way, maybe this makes my unintentional fabrication less heinous.
Enjoy. Yours, Brad
Bynum E. Carter, Indiana Law Journal 29 (1953-1954): 307-314.
“The heroes of the Whig histories were the liberals, the devils the Tories and their spokesmen. Professor Kirk has now reversed this interpretation. The conservatives have become saints, although sometimes rather dissolute in their personal habits, while the liberals have become devils. The result of his study is unfortunately as erroneous, and as likely to around emotional rancor as those Whig predecessors.” (Page 307)
“The reader is likely to gain the impression that not a single valuable contribution was made by the liberals, while nearly all conservatives of the last century and a half have exhibited an exceptional, and quite inhuman, ability to grasp all the facets and implications of contemporary problems.” (Page 307)
“This is not to say that The Conservative Mind has no merits, for it has several, not the least of which is the author’s linguistic felicity. Aphorisms burst from his pen, and he is seldom obtuse and never dull.” (Page 307)
“As an antidote to the liberal bias of the more famous intellectual histories, it is effective, although it is an antidote which, if swallowed whole, is likely to have damaging effects equal to those produced by the ailment it purports to cure.” (Page 307)
“At the heart of this list lie the Providential theory of history, a deep rooted distrust of human reason and human goodness, and a nearly mystic belief in the intrinsic value of tradition and prejudice as the basis of social order.” (Page 308)
“Professor Kirk’s work speaks for a dogmatic conservatism which is all too frequently blinded to the actualities of the modern world. His hatred for modern radicals frequently results in outrageous distortions—as, for example, his assertion that universal military training in modern Britain is a product of British socialism.” (Page 314)
“The reader who is unfamiliar with works of British and American conservatives of the last century and a half will find much value in this work. The person who is concerned to see how thinkers have tried to restate conservative principles in a modern context would be better advised to turn to Peter Viereck’s Conservatism Revisited or Quintin Hogg’s The Case for Conservatism.” (Page 314)
“Mr. Kirk himself is no common conservative, but a very high-minded religious humanist, and it seems that he would like to recover to conservatism the whole body of doctrine as Burke delivered it to the moderns.” (Page 648)
“Mr. Kirk presents his figures by a good method, letting them speak for themselves in part, then resuming them and rounding them off; his own language may see a little too resonant sometimes, but perhaps is not more so than that of the originals.” (Page 648)
“But we may wonder if it is the stronger for its theological representations. Mr. Kirk in his statement is obliged to seem a little familiar in reading the designs of Providence. Is it pious of him, then, to testify that change is beneficial though its aspect is ugly? Perhaps he means that change as change is mere becoming, therefore hideous, but change accomplished passes into true being and is fit for the contemplation of the blessed. But I think not. To what benefit, then, does he refer? It would seem as if the conservatives had declined on principle, even after the event, to identify the precise benefit, which would be to confess their error before men, and might prevent them from committing it again. Or is the divine process so inscrutable that the best of men cannot be sure of understanding it? In that case they may hereafter present their views with greater moderation. But there are some naughty possibilities in Mr. Kirk’s statement. Godless men are not sufficiently deterred from the inference that Providence may have willed it because Providence did not know His own mind; nor from the even more ribald inference that Providence may have been compromising with evil, and using the decent conservatives as His agents in getting the best terms possible. On the whole, it would seem risky to invoke theological sanctions for one’s politics; only a little less risky in Burke’s time than in Mr. Kirk’s and ours.” (Page 650)
“Burke’s total conservatism is scarcely recoverable now. This is oddly borne out by the anti-climax of Mr. Kirk’s concluding chapter, ‘The Recrudescence of Conservatism,’ where there is a great confusion of ringing ambitious passages.” (Page 654)
R.J. White, The Cambridge Review 76 (March 5, 1955): 438.
“It begins with the last and worst and most illiberal phase of Burke; it takes in the most foolish and frightened anti-liberalism of the nineteenth-century Papacy (represented here by Newman); and it marches backwards into the twentieth century with both eyes fixed regretfully on the past.”
“Mr. Kirk has succumbed to the Germanic heresy that history is made by books.”
“One is left to suppose that American Conservatism in our time has taken infection from its alliance with Roman Catholicism in the common opposition to the theory and practice of Communism. It is an alliance that is likely to prove no less embarrassing than the old English Tory alliance with Jacobitism.”
James Heslin, Library Journal 78 (May 1, 1953): 808.
“This book seems sure to provoke heated controversy, consequently libraries should have copies available.”
M.A. Fizsimons, “The Conservative Mind,” The Review of Politics 16 (April 1954): 241-244.
“A valuable contribution to the necessary task of reconstruction in politics.” (Page 242)
“His understandable distrust of mass man, on occasion, reaches an eighteenth century English level.” (Page 243)
“Kirk’s well-written study should reach a wide audience and stimulate discussion and further studies. I can think of no greater praise for it than to wish it had been written fifteen years ago.” (Page 244)
Dr. Bradley J. Birzer is co-founder of The Imaginative Conservative and a Senior Contributor. He is the author of Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth, and American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll. He is also author of The Humane Republic: The Imagination of Russell Kirk (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky). Dr. Birzer also teaches Catholics in the Public Square for Catholic Courses.