I recently read Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, and composed a thought about it in relation to the state of this country, which perhaps more than ever before mirrors the state of man today—outwardly self-reliant, inwardly flailing. My thought is that we are yanking free the anchors, worrying loose the cables, and where once this was effected with radical fervor, it’s now a consequence of indolence, of decay, of corruption.
Our politics are dominated by preeners who speak as utopians and govern as apparatchiks. Our news is delivered by people who understand little of what they attempt to relate. Our children are instructed by dullards. Our churches continue to splinter, our civil bonds disintegrate, and an appalling number of adults choose either to murder their children in the womb or abandon them at birth.
Russell Kirk’s book is important because it can help us understand why the institutions we no longer value are in fact critical to the survival of what we do still care about. He does little to explain, however, how they might be regained when they are shattered, or what is to be done when a majority of the populace neither understands, values, nor even longs for them. Perhaps this is because when he wrote, there was still hope of restoring reason and order to the U.S., perhaps even to England. What he didn’t anticipate is that the political and business leaders who rushed to the banner of conservatism in his time would be unworthy, and ultimately prove themselves venal, ignorant, and self-seeking.
“In every period,” Kirk writes, “some will endeavor to pull down the permanent things, and others will defend them manfully.” Even without the pulling at foundations daily attempted by our nation’s cold-souled bureaucrats and administrators, the permanent things have begun to collapse under their own weight. Who will build them again? That’s the question now.
Years ago I offered a confession that conservative Christians might benefit from praying, and earlier this year I offered political conservatives encouragement. Had I read Kirk sooner, I might have had a better sense to whom I was actually writing, namely the people who flit in and out of the tribe known as Conservatives (I include myself in that number) without understanding what we are for, and therefore what we must be against, and what all of this means for what must be done.