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russell kirk

On Irving Kupcinet’s Chicago television program, Malcolm X and this commentator participated in a  discussion of public affairs, a few months ago. Now Malcolm X–or Malcolm Little, as he was born–has been murdered before hundreds of people. Revolutions do, indeed, devour their own children.

Somewhat to my surprise, I found Malcolm X to be a man of considerable intellectual powers, certainly no conventional demagogue, dignified, and rather winning in manner. He was a strange being, but no fool or madman. He had then just returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca, capping his formal conversion to the Mohammedan faith.

He rose out of violence and crime in the urban jungles, and he died by violence and crime. Yet the convicted burglar who made himself a minor power in the land did not appear to be a natural fanatic or incendiary.

In part, his talk of violence was a means of ensuring the continued support of his followers, in a time when the man who rise the tire dare not dismount. He was unquestionably courageous; and, having taken the sword, he was prepared to perish by the sword.

Inconsistent and erratic though many of his remarks were in recent months, Malcolm X may have been working his way toward some program less crazy than that of the Black Muslims he left–and who seem to have wreaked their vengeance upon him. He despised the sentimental American liberal of the sort that patronizes the Negro, and his first principle was that the Negro must work out his own improvement.

In time, his talents for leadership, and the fact that his very notoriety compelled him to think about what he said, might have converted him gradually from fanatic utterance to reasonable courses. The man had more in him than simple hatred.

Had Malcolm X been born in the modern black Africa with which he proposed American Negro solidarity, in this time of troubles he might have gone straight to the top; for he had the intelligence and the zeal and the self-confidence which give men power in revolutionary eras. He might then have risen to the dignity of president or premier; but then, too, he might have died at the hands of assassins, as still more African politicians will die before this year is out.

In America, he was a freak; in ‘emergent’ Africa, he would have been a statesman. In Africa, after all, ‘separation’ of the races is a possibility; but to have separate Negro commonwealth in which Malcolm X professed to believe never could be realized in America.

Our Chicago meeting was not acrimonious, and I should have liked to talk to Malcolm X longer, to ascertain if truly there was forever a great gulf fixed between us. But that unquiet spirit will not be heard again.

Books on or by Dr. Kirk may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreOriginally published in the Helena Montana Independent Record- March 3, 1965.

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5 replies to this post
  1. Russell could be prickly. At times he had quite a thin skin when it came to criticisms that many outsiders would think were small matters, but to Russell were things of honor. But this comment on Malcolm X, as John Zmirak says above, is utterly typical of his spiritual and intellectual generosity. It also says a great deal about his discernment of the minds and souls of others.

  2. Whether it was gracious or not, I don't think is so much the point. The fact that it seems to have been right on target reveals how penetrating a mind Mr. Kirk possessed. The two could not have come from more different environments- yet Kirk could see through the rhetorical differences straight through to the man himself. Malcom's beginning transformation was something Kirk could see, and he understood that that transformation was separating him from the lunatics around him. Unfortunately the lunatics could see it too.

  3. This is wonderful info and confirms some of my own long-held hypotheses concerning Mister X. Nice to have them ratified by a thinker of Mister Kirk's stature.

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