For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Friday, 3 January 2014

Russell Kirk and Conservatism

I await a book – it’s in the post – by an American conservative essayist (and author of fiction) called Russell Kirk. I’m a bit surprised, on reading what is written about him, that I haven’t heard of him before and that he isn’t better known. He seems to be the right kind of conservative: a conservative who isn’t a neo-conservative or free-market liberal, who understands the significance of Coleridge as well as Burke for the tradition, and who caught on to the notion that conservatism as a preserver of tradition is the friend and brother of Natural Law philosophy. He also seems to have drawn on G.K. Chesterton to some extent; he didn’t back the first Iraq war; and he became a prominent member of Una Voce, an organization that promotes traditional liturgy, in the United States. These are all good reasons to explore his work (for me). A quick resume of his ideas is available on-line in the essay Ten Conservative Principles.

Not enough people realise that (a) Thatcher wasn’t a conservative, she was a liberal, and free market economics is not a conservative idea, (b) not even Churchill was a conservative, and (c) in fact there haven’t been any real conservatives in power since at least the beginning of the last century. A friend thinks that Disraeli might have been the last: I am not even sure about that. The name “conservative” has become so smothered with various ideological non-entities of which Cameroonism is the latest, that I think it has potential power to come back as a coherent political philosophy if it were renamed and presented as something radical. And so it is, in both senses: for it is both a return to the roots of human and civic life in tradition, and also says something quite new and unheard of for most people alive. Surely people are getting fed-up with a diet of liberalism, the oligarchy of bureaucracy and big business, and are ready for a political philosophy that is not mere callow teenage anarchism, but which speaks of an authority that rules over the state and trade and limits and curbs their power?

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