Religion and The Conservative Mind


To know The Conservative Mind is to know the mind of itsremarkable author, Russell Kirk. He was an old-fashionedman—courtly, retiring, serene, formal in dress and manner—whose view of the world, proclaimed by every photograph, wastraditional, anti-modern, even obscure. Captured in his study, hislibrary, his home, surrounded by pens, books, family, and friends,he looks every bit the paternalist man of letters, a figure unmistakablyof the past. To critics, he was a sort of mid-western EvelynWaugh, tweedy, fustian, fond of a dram, a contramundum crank.To friends, he was a man who knew the good life and lived it to thefull, preaching domestic joys and practicing them with panache.To the unpersuaded, Kirk’s social poise was social pose. By dressand manner, by truculent toryism, he mocked a world he did notunderstand. To the persuaded, he understood the world too welland wanted nothing to do with it. Certainly his conservatismseemed at times compounded of complaint and cussedness. Massproduction and mass consumption, history forgotten, the oldways of faith at a loss: if this was modernity it was not for him. Hishome at Piety Hill, with its simpler commerce of family life,seasonal change, sacramental connection to the land, was more tohis taste. In one sense, critics who dismiss him as a right-wingtype, a persona, get the point yet miss it entirely. He played a rolehe wrote himself, actor and lines in perfect harmony. As for thepart, he was proud to call himself Catholic, gentleman, husband,father, a man of letters, friend. These were badges of honor, not(as the psychologizers would have it) social masks concealingsome more authentic self. "Manners maketh man"" said William ofWykeham in the fourteenth century. The style is the thing itself.Kirk embodied the dictum. Of all men, he was mannerly, courteous,self-consciously gallant. At the heart of that manner, at thecore of his private being, was religion. When the pen was laid downand the last letter written, he remained a man of God.