russell kirk

Charles Kesler

A week or so ago, I published a critique of Russell Kirk from Murray Rothbard, dating back to the 1950s.

Today, I came across a different sort of critique of Kirk, written four years after Dr. Kirk passed away from this world of sorrows.

Frankly, there are so many errors in this critique that it’s hard to know where to start. I don’t know the author or much—or really anything—about him, but I would guess that he’s never actually read Russell Kirk.

In fact, as I type this, I realize that I do know something about this man, Kesler. He writes about things he simply doesn’t understand and hasn’t researched. Frankly, much of what he writes below is just dead wrong.

Regardless, I present this to you, the readers of The Imaginative Conservative, his assertions about Kirk, from 13 years ago.

The most striking feature of traditionalist conservatism has always been how alienated it is from the roots of its own—that is, the American—political tradition. Take Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, a founding document of the conservative movement and still the best expression of the traditionalist school. Kirk enshrined a few Americans in his conservative pantheon—John Adams and John C. Calhoun, most prominently—but he had little room for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson (whose “a priori concepts” and “French egalitarian theories” Kirk distrusted), James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, or Abraham Lincoln, to name a few. None of these thoughtful American statesmen endorsed the quasi-Burkean love of prescription, inequality, and the Romantic-organic view of society that Kirk himself embraced. Kirk’s conservatism, therefore, was never peculiarly American. —Charles Kesler, “All American?”, National Review (December 7, 1998), pg. 52.

Kirk, of course, spent a considerable amount of writing space on Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Lincoln, especially in his works published in the 1970s and 1980s. With the notable exception of Madison, Kirk found much good to say about each of these men.

Where Kesler gets his evidence is beyond understanding. That he writes such a blatant untruth about Kirk four years after Kirk died (and could not defend himself) and in the very journal for which Kirk dedicated nearly 25 years of his writing career to, is a nothing short of scandalous.

And, Kirk unAmerican? Kirk who served in World War II, Kirk who purposefully wrote from small-town Michigan, Kirk who advised presidential candidates. . . UnAmerican? Ridiculous.

Now, back to mocking Harold Camping. . . .

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The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility.

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