intellectualIn February 2005, Winston Elliott and I hosted a two-day conference at Hillsdale College commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Russell Kirk’s deeply profound and philosophical work, Academic Freedom.

Sadly, the book is little remembered, though it’s probably the most Christian Humanist of all of his works.

Gleaves Whitney offered the keynote address, and Winston MCed the event. We had an excellent audience, and Mark Kalthoff, Cicero Bruce, Larry Arnn, Bruce Frohnen, John Willson, Annette Kirk, David Whalen, and others spoke.

Now, almost seven years later, I’ve had the chance to  reread Academic Freedom. I find the book to be even better than I remembered.  

For several years, Kirk saw it as a mission to fight for a true understanding of academic freedom–in its classical and medieval context–not as a right for those in power to impose their will upon their students, but as a duty to pursue and seek Truth in all things.

This article (below) is one of the many such pieces Kirk wrote to augment the argument advanced in his book.


The following quotes are all from: Russell Kirk, “The American Intellectual: A Conservative View,” Pacific Spectator 9 (Autumn 1955): 361-371.

“By implication, and intellectual neglected the imagination, the power of wonder and awe, and the whole realm of being which is beyond mere rational perception.” (Page 362)

“The words used to describe persons possessed of what Burke called ‘a liberal understanding’ were varied, and none of them was wholly satisfactory: scholar, bookman, philosopher, university man. Coleridge coined a new word to describe the teachers and preceptors of society, including the clergy and the lay scholars: the clerisy. A principal reason why no one word adequately describe such a class of persons was that, in most of Europe and America, and particularly in Britain and the United States, intellectuality was not the particular property of any class or order.” (Page 362)

“Newman’s ‘liberal education,’ the world of contemplation and silence, was not what they were after: they wanted to mold society nearer to their hearts’ desire, not to adhere to traditional humanism by improving private mind and character.” (Page 363)

“It never has attained to corresponding influence in the English–speaking states, in part because of the tradition of liberal learning there (closely joined to the old humanistic disciplines and the concept of free and dignified personality in all walks of life), in part because representative government and social mobility have provided safety valves.” (Page 364)

“Only as Britain and America lost their comparative isolation from European ideology, and only as there began to grow up in these nations a body of persons educated be on their expectations in life, opposed to established social institutions, did the word intellectual obtained currency and the place of the intellectual in English and American society began to be argued about.” (Page 366)

“Had not the New England farmer who read good books as much a right to be considered an intellectual being as any coffee-house Bohemian?” (Page 367)

“Only when a doctrinaire hostility toward ‘capitalism,’ traditional religion, and established political forms began to make itself felt in America, particularly with the growing influence of Marxism and other European ideologies in the 1920s and the vague discontents of the Depression, did a number of educated Americans commence to call themselves intellectuals.” (Page 368)

“The decay of the old American respect for learning—a decay which seemed actually to grow more alarming in direct ratio to the ease with which high school diplomas and college degrees were obtained, on the principle that whatever is cheap is correspondingly little valued—all these influences tended to produce an alienation of the scholar and the rider from established American society.” (Page 369)

“I am fond neither of the word intellectual nor of the concept.” (Page 369)

“Ideology is inimical to real intellectual attainment.” (Page 370)

“It is, then, a case of serious misunderstanding—and perhaps of deliberate misunderstanding—when Mr. Arthur M Schlesinger Jr., writing in The Reporter, declares that I am devoted to vexing ‘all those who can read without moving their lips.’ (Page 370)

“But the real works of the mind, elevated power of intellect, the scholar, the philosopher, the bookman, the clerisy, the union of a reason with humility and duty, I am dedicated.” (Page 370)

“Things are in the saddle and the triumph of technology threatens to suppress the truly human person, we in America require real intellectual power and virtue more than ever before, and with them a high degree of intellectual freedom and integrity—the qualities and conditions of a genuine clerisy. But I do not believe anything of the sort can be had from an ‘intelligentsia,’ a ruthless class after the European model.” (Page 371)

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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