“The is surely one of the most heartening and thought-provoking books to have appeared in recent years”
“In an age of ‘statistical morality’ and of the apotheosis of democracy, and when Catholics are being urged, as a noted Protestant theologian has recently urged them, to refrain from looking to the Natural Law as a common meeting-ground with Protestants, since the rights of the individual are above this law, it is a fine thing to have so clearly put a case for tradition and prescription. Professor Kirk is not a Catholic, and but few of the examples that he offers of the conservative mind are Catholics, but no Catholic intellectual can read this book without profit, or can, indeed, afford not to know it.”
U.S. Quarterly Book Review 9 (1953): 329.
“Several purposes are served by Mr. Kirk’s forthright and courageous, if also somewhat controversial book.”
“A real service has been performed in surveying, within one pair of covers, the thinkers who have opposed, on one ground or another, the movement towards proletarian democracy and the monolithic state, and in calling attention to such neglected figures.”
“Kirk assails ‘industrialism’ as if it were a doctrinal fad imposed upon the world rather than a mode of production so immensely successful that it made its way everywhere with small advocacy and less opposition. We may suspect that his outlook is colored by a quite sentimental vision of English rural society before the industrial revolution.”
George Catlin, “The Conservative Mind,” The Contemporary Review (January 1955): 62-63.
“Mr. Kirk has produced an eminently readable and worthwhile book which merits attention. It is peculiarly interesting because it records the continuous strands, since Lock and his disciple Burke, in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and not solely the parochial conservatisms of Britain and of the Atlantic sea-board, which some timid souls believe to be local flowers too delicate for export. The gravest criticism is that he is too much of a romantic Coleridgean soul.” (Page 62)
“Socialists seem, not some but all, to be dismissed as ‘materialists.’ Anti-revolutionary in intent, Mr. Kirk seems, like Henry James to have lied so long in the Old World as to use such singularly un-American phrases as ‘America’s labouring classes.’” (Pages 62-63)
“Perhaps he lacks a little the sense for the cynicism of historical paradox, the final detachment of the scientist. The essence of Burke’s philosophy was that it was religious, compact of a feeling of the piety of the ages almost Chinese in intensity. It was, pace Mr. Kirk, organic although of course not biologico-organic: it involved a harmony of the monads.” (Page 63)
“To this day there has remained a dichotomy in the American mind. It is shocked by Russian atheists, but yet swears by the Voltarian doctrinaire separation of church and state, the church being regarded as of the same genus as a golf-club. It is a dichotomy which oddly encourages officious Baptists divines to hector the American Department of State into having no diplomatic representation in the Vatican State, and has far graver effects upon American secular education.” (Page 63)
Ben Ray Redman, “The Defense of Liberty,” The Freeman (August 10, 1953): 819-820.
“This is, in the trite phrase, a timely book—but it is a timely book that began to be written when Edmund Burke set down his Reflections on the Revolution in France and crossed the floor of the House of Commons to sit with William Pitt. Since then it has been the growing work of many hands.” (Page 819)
“It is the history of this mind that Mr. Kirk has written, and in the writing of it he necessarily has a good deal to do with its antithesis—shall we call it the ‘liberal imagination’?—nourished on Bentham’s principle of human benevolence.” (Page 819)
“But, whatever the future may hold, Mr. Kirk has written a book that merits the gratitude of all who cherish the conservative cause.” (Page 820)
Stefan T. Possony, “Conservatism Reappraised,” New Leader 37 (January 25, 1954): 22-23.
“Mr. Kirk has written an interesting and stimulating book which teaches us much about one of the most important and most neglected strands of Western political thinking. The volume contains some illuminating passages and original documentary materials. The chapter on John Adams is excellent. Honesty and a felicitous style are among the book’s outstanding virtues. Yet, I am not sure that Mr. Kirk has contributed to a better understanding of conservatism.” (Page 22)
“The objective of conservatism is a civitas humana.” (Page 23)
P.N.N. Synnott, “English-Speaking Conservatives,” Dublin Review 467 (1955): 98-101.
“Mr. Kirk’s book is a history of ideas. His scope is deliberately limited, starting with Burke.” (Page 98)
“Thereafter, American Conservatives were no longer men of any political influence in their own time. They were merely writers—novelists, diarists, pamphleteers, professors and so on—criticizing rather querulously the trends which they had not power to guide.” (Page 99)
“Again in the modern world, things are in the ascendant; it is easy, even for barbarians, to make bombs and aircraft and gadgets of all sorts: these interesting achievements distract the mind from the contemplation of first principles.” (page 100)
“On this the American writers seem to say more clearly than the English (though some Englishmen like Arthur Bryant and T.S. Eliot do murmur politely) that a spiritual revival is needed.” (Page 100)
“So the last chapter, taken in isolation, is the weakest in the book. Mr. Kirk’s gift is not for cure but for diagnosis.” (Page 101)
Wilfrid Bayne, American Benedictine Review 5 (Summer 1954): 165-166.
“The title of this book will, no doubt, deter many from turning its pages, so firmly fixed is the confusion between the terms ‘conservative’ and ‘reactionary.’” (Page 165)
“Such problems as the conflict between equality and liberty, the necessity of hierarchy in social values, and many more, all pertinent to the crisis which now faces our civilization, are discussed and analyzed in this peculiarly rewarding book.” (Page 166)
“At a time when the societies of democratic pattern are threatened by disintegration within, it is salutary to be reminded that no merely human institution is proof against the perverseness and stupidity of fallen human nature. The problem before those who still count upon democratic institutions to save what is left of our heritage is not so much how to make the world safe for democracy as how to make democracy safe for the world.” (Page 166)
R.H.S. Crossman, New Statesman 48 (November 20, 1954).
“Kirk gives us his answer. He admits that until very recently this kind of thinking has had little influence in his own country: indeed, his story is a plaintive tale of a great people obstinately achieving fantastic material progress and worshipping false democratic gods in defiance of its Conservative prophets. In the 1920s, according to Mr. Kirk, ‘Conservatism was extinct in the United States’ and even now, when the Democrats have been ousted and ‘liberalism and radicalism are in full retreat’, he sadly reckons that there are not a hundred American business men who can be rated as true Conservatives. The number, no doubt, might be larger if Mr. Kirk did not demand that the true Conservative should believe that the American way of life has been corrupted by a graduated income tax and more recently by compulsory military service and Marshall Aid. After this we are not surprised to find him lamenting the repudiation of Mr. Taft by the Republican Party.”
Peter Gay, Political Science Quarterly 68 (December 1953): 586-588.
“In this comprehensive survey of the Anglo-American conservative tradition since the French Revolution, Mr. Kirk enters a vigorous dissent.” (Page 586)
“While the account is largely free from the vituperation to which liberals have had to become accustomed in recent years, the analysis is often marred by Mr. Kirk’s polemical approach. For the author is not content with his exposition of conservative doctrine; he engages in a running battle with utilitarianism, secularism, and the leveling tendencies which he attributes to such villains as Bentham, J.S. Mill and John Dewey.” (Page 586)
“It has been a long time since the contributions of conservative doctrine to political thought have been summed up as well as they have in The Conservative Mind.” (Page 587)
“Mr. Kirk’s difficulties in attempting to resurrect conservatism as an ideology emerge most clearly in his treatment of individual authors [especially with More and Babbitt]” (Page 587).
“In thus attempting to prove the existence and the moral and intellectual respectability of a conservative ideology, Mr. Kirk has only succeeded in doing the opposite; in trying to confute Lionel Trilling’s position he has only confirmed it.” (Page 588)
“Harrison Smith, “U.S.-British Philosophy Traced,” Washington Post (June 14, 1953), pg. B6.
The Conservative Mind is a “landmark in contemporary thinking.”
Francis Biddle, “The Blur of Mediocrity,” New Republic (August 24, 1953): 17-19.
“This the picture, I believe, of America today in the minds of many Europeans, to whom the difference between such a levelling [sic] economic imperialism, as they think it to be, and the military imperialism of Russia, offers no choice to insure the humanist culture of the West, and results in negativism. It is not a true picture. Yet there are elements of truth in it which cannot be disregarded.” (Page 17)
The Conservative Mind “has the nostalgic unreality of so much of contemporary American intellectual conservatism, of T.S. Eliot, that ‘partisan of a graded society,’ of Allen Tate, of Peter Viereck, who seems to have little to offer to nourish or cultivate the wasteland which surrounds them. They can see the forces of an unlimited industrialism at work in a civilization caught in a mechanical spin; but they can suggest no substitute of philosophy or of symbols, blaming democracy for men’s sins against the spirit, hating the ‘barbarian nomads,” as Eliot calls them, largely because they have ventured to overrun those preserves which in the world they would like to reconstruct were reserved for the elite. Unless you blame democracy for the discovery of modern power, to equate it with the destructiveness of that power is like thumbing your nose at the Universe because you don’t like it.” (Page 18)
“Property seems to be the only symbol which American conservatives of the twentieth century can offer a spiritually hungry people—property, raised to the dry religion of free enterprise as the only way of life.” (Page 19)
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.