russell Kirk

Russell Kirk

All history, and especially modern history, is in some sense the account of the decline of community and the ruin consequent upon that loss. In this process, the rise of the modern State has been by far the most powerful influence. ‘The single most decisive influence upon Western social organization has been the rise and development of decentralized territorial state.’ There is every reason to regard the State in history as, to use a phrase fun gear, applied to Rousseau’s doctrine of the general will, ‘a process of permanent revolution.’ Hostile toward every institution which acts as a check upon its absolute power, the State has been engaged, ever since the decline of the medieval order, in stripping away one by one the functions and prerogatives of those ancient institutions which were the guardians of true community—aristocracy, church, guild, family, and local association.

What the state seeks is a tableland upon which a multitude of individuals, solitary though herded together, labor anonymously for the State’s maintenance. Universal military conscription and the ‘mobile labor force’ and the concentration–camp are only the more recent developments of the system. The ‘pulverizing macadamizing tendency of modern history’ which Maitland discerned is been brought to pass, in large part, by ‘the momentous conflicts of jurisdiction between the political State and the social associations line intermediate to it and the individual.’ The same processes may be traced in the history of Greece and of Rome; and the consequence, in the long run, was social ennui and political deaths. All those great gifts of variety, contrast, competition, communal pride, and sympathetic association which characterize man at his manliest are menaced by the ascendancy of the omnicompetent state, resolved for its own security to level the ramparts of traditional community.

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Kirk, “Ethical Labor,” Sewanee Review 62 (1954): 7–8.

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