russell kirk

Russell Kirk

We here break in on an interview that Suzie Creamcheese conducted with Russell Kirk, having talked him into a rather personal inteview because she looked so much like an Indian princess.  Suzy has just reminded RAK of the seminar at Hillsdale College in 1977 when Gary Tremper, playing St. Russell, was interviewed by Kirby Wilbur, as William F. Buckley, Jr.  Their subject was growing high-grade hash on the property at Mecosta, Michigan.

RAK:  You are a, unh, err, jovial girl, Miss Creamcheese.

SC:  St. Russell–I mean, you know, Dr. Kirk, I am puzzled about something you wrote about the great metaphor of the Social Contract.  It was, like, the whole “State of Nature” thing was sort of silly.  If that’s true, I mean, like how could the Declaration of Independence have been written?

RAK:  S-s-s-s silly?  Miss Creamcheese, I don’t believe that I have ever used that word. Nay!  But I perceive your question to be well meaning.  Imagine, if you will, several rather well behaved and articulate savages sitting in a cave, wondering what the shadows which every so often flickered like dates on fire on the walls could possibly mean.  Imagine also that they had learnt to speak a common language and had clothes on…

SC:  But St. Russell, o gosh, there I go again, Dr. Kirk, why would you of all people want me to imagine cavemen without clothes?  I mean,

RAK:  Uh uh uh eghmm, Miss Creamcheese, they had probably been to Goodwill.  But clothes are somewhat the point.  Like language, they give us personality.  How, indeed, would the cavemen have achieved such a state of culture without  first being part of a cult?

SC:  Huh?

RAK:  M m Miss Creamcheese, how would our noble savages have known that they were in a “state of nature” unless they knew what “nature” was?  Nature must have meant something to them, do you think?

SC:  Well, my Straussian professor told me that how they got there didn’t matter much, because we couldn’t know about such things except like, you know, through myths, and most myths come out to be nature after all.

RAK:  Aha! Miss Creamcheese, you show more sense than I had at first perceived. (You are also, Kirk thought, quite a handsome young woman.)  Do you believe that the Declaration of Independence was written in a cave?

SC:   Oh, gosh, St.–Dr. Kirk, please don’t ask me the questions.  I’m interviewing you, remember?  Now, what about this “cult” thing?  I thought culture was like listening to Oprah–I mean opera, or something.

RAK:  G g g good point, my dear.  I would now  like you to imagine this–have you noticed how often I use that word?  Opera, the singing of that which something puts into our imagination, and causes us to go beyond ourselves, into what?  A “state of nature?”

SC:  Wow!  St. Russell, I didn’t know you had that soaring kind of thing!

RAK:  Haven’t you read “There’s a Long Long Trail A Winding?”  No, Miss Creamcheese, what I call the “Moral Imagination” (and it isn’t my own invention–I stand on the shoulders of giants) comes not from mere reason but from a wonderfully complex gift that we receive, not that we create.  To get back to a homely trope, do we know that we should wear clothes because of a contract in the state of nature, or do we wear clothes because we otherwise are naked, and only realized that because we attempted to take over the garden that a creator put us in?

SC:  (Here assuming the often well-hidden intelligence God gave her)  So, Dr. Kirk, is the cult more real than the contract?  Is myth more real than fact?  Is the power of the state of nature metaphor as powerful as the myth of the Garden?

RAK: question, Miss Creamcheese, is whether the metaphor is possible without the myth, and whether the myth is possible without the imagination, and whether the imagination is possible without God.  The Declaration of Independence is possible without the state of nature, but it is not possible without the created order.

SC:  Did you ever grow high-grade hash on Piety Hill?

Essays on or by Dr. Kirk may be found here. 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. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

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