Here is my review of Russell Kirk: American Conservative that I posted on Amazon:
In a few short days, I journeyed through the 75 years that Russell Kirk lived on this earth from his humble beginnings in rural Michigan to his final home going at Piety Hill in 1994 by reading this very enjoyable biography by Bradley Birzer, a professor of history at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan.
The strengths are many in this book including the fact that much of the research came through retrieval of the personal correspondence and diaries of Prof. Kirk. There are also other written letters from people dealing with Kirk and that there was much citing of journals and magazines dating back to the 1950s.
Kirk is shown to be a staunch stoic who bared up to the monotony of being stationed for four years during World War II at the Dugway Proving Grounds 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. It was here that he saw the expanse of the West and the desolation that was ingrained into his memory for the rest of his life. It was a world totally different from where he grew up in the forested areas of Michigan.
There is so much more that can be said for the man, but the main points that I took away from this book include the fact that he was his own man who had a unique personality almost to the point of being called an eccentric. He walked with a sword cane and wore a cape wherever he went. He also despised modern technology that included the automobile, the radio and most especially the television where he threw a fit when his family watched several programs on the tube and proceeded shortly thereafter to throw the device out of the window. He felt that technology made people less human and robbed people of imagination and opportunities for introspection.
Kirk was also a man who felt that politics was not the way that men should solve problems. He departed from this belief in the early 1960s through his support of Goldwater and in the early 1980s when he tried to give advice to Ronald Reagan in terms of promoting conservatism. By the end of his life, he was very critical of the massive growth of government and especially the military industrial complex and came out vehemently against the Gulf War.
Kirk’s conversion shortly before his marriage in 1964 was another highlight of this book. The author contended that Kirk’s embracing of the Catholic faith was not instantaneous, but rather developed over the course of many years. He was in the end a man of faith who had a very Stoic life and instilled that philosophy in his children with the help of his wife Annette.
Also, Kirk was not a man that believed in programs. No ideology could change the hearts of men, for such things could only do more damage to civilization and mankind. Kirk strived to return to the “permanent things,” those things that came by tradition and by Faith over the course of centuries. He was very wary of the novel and the unproven which tended toward radicalism. Kirk was not a libertarian by any stretch but by the end of his days he sought to form a rare alliance with men like Murray Rothbard who was his bitter enemy back in the 1950s. Kirk also helped libertarian flavored candidates like Lawrence Reed who now heads the Foundation for Economic Education.
I could go on about the fiction he wrote which was very substantial and the numerous trips he took to Scotland, but suffice to say, you all must read the rest to get an idea on what a great man Russell Kirk was. We need more giants like him…well not exactly like him or he might come from the grave and give us a knock on the head.