Russell Kirk: The Father of the American Conservative Movement
by Mark Baker
While Edmund Burke is widely considered as the Father of Conservative Philosophy, the one man who more than any other responsible for turning it into a movement was fellow Michigander Russell Kirk. Countless individuals credit Kirk's 1953 book, 'The Conservative Mind' as being the initial spark of the modern conservative movement in the United States. Kirk condensed he beliefs in his 1957 follow-up work, 'The Essence of Conservatism,' in which he stated, "The conservative is a person who endeavors to conserve the best in our traditions and our institutions, reconciling that best with necessary reform from time to time, our American War of Independence, especially in the works of John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, we find a sober and tested conservatism founded upon an understanding of history and human nature. The Constitution which the leaders of that generation drew up has proved to be the most successful conservative device in all history."
Kirk's pronunciation reiterated the vital importance the U.S. Constitution plays as an instrument that protects people from abuse by government. And because of this, the Constitution must be strictly interpreted to guarantee that protection. While most Americans would perhaps think that all presidents would naturally make decisions from a Constitutional perspective -as their very oath of office states that- nothing could be further from the truth.
These Conservative concepts flew in the face of classic Liberalism, which is by its very nature distrustful of 'the people,' and always gravitates towards stateism, progressive taxation and ever-expanding governmental controls.
Barry Goldwater had been strongly influenced by Kirk's writing and was the first politician to actively promote Constitutional Conservatism. Goldwater's book, 'The Conscience of a Conservative' was required reading at Harvard for a short time. During his 1964 Presidential Campaign, Goldwater promised to enforce the U.S. Constitution if elected. An ad designed by a little-known political strategist named Bill Moyers, would end up doing-in Goldwater. It came to be known as 'The Daisy' Ad, and although it was only aired one time, it's effect was devastating in that it masterfully played upon the deep fear Americans had of nuclear warfare and the ad choreographs a little girl counting as she pulls the peddles off a daisy. They a claxon-type voice joins her slight one doing another count down, this one to a nuke-launch which ends in a scene of nuclear detonation and no more little girl. Goldwater was done-in by hysterics.
Fast-Forward to 1980. Ronald Reagan, a former democrat and unionist leader of the 'Screen Actors Guild, had been profoundly moved by Kirk's works in the 1950's, and finally reached a point where he could no longer call himself a democrat and joined the GOP. He ran boldly with, and legitimized the conservative political philosophy as President. His 'Government-Cutting' platform resonated well with the general public, and he had proof of its success as Governor in California, where he successfully reformed a runaway welfare state that had been heading towards financial ruin. Using his 'Trickle-Down' Economics gamebook (which he learned from Milton Friedman), Reagan cut taxes in his first year and the U.S. economy began an unprecedented economic boom in 1982 that lasted unabated until 2001.
Larger than his economic success though, President Reagan's uncompromising stand against Communism and tyranny has already established his place in history. His opening salvo in 1982: "The March of Freedom and Democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people." The fall of the Berlin wall came in 1989, followed by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Considering the administrations of all modern Republican Presidents, it becomes quite clear that Reagan was far more an exception then the rule; a Statesman rather than a politician and a true Constitutionalist Conservative. By comparison, neither Bush evidenced any true allegiance to Constitutional guidelines, or even basic fiscal responsibility. Today, Obama's showing signs that he's most comfortable as dictatorial change-agent whose more than happy to use anyone or any means to accomplish his agenda. Where Clinton and the two Bushes ignored portions of the Constitution that got in their way, Obama is more then willing to completely trample the document in full.
Good Conservative Americans have indeed been stirred from their slumber. We woke up, rubbed our eyes, looked at our children and decided we won't let this tyrant destroy our nation and thus spoil the blood of all those who gave their lives to protect, defend and preserve this great Constitutional Republic.
Months before he died, Russell Kirk re-wrote his 'Six Tenants of Conservatism' into Ten as follows:
1. The Conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. 2. The Conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. 3. The Conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription. 4. Conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. 5. Conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. 6. Conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. 7. Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. 8. Conservatives uphold voluntary community, as they oppose involuntary collectivism. 9. The Conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. 10. The thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.
For those 'newly-awakened' Constitutional Conservatives who are standing up and being counted in the fight to save our country and rid the GOP of false followers (RINO's, etc.), it might be a good time to spend some coin on one of Mr. Kirk's books. They form the basis of good armor.
Note: I had the distinct honor of meeting Russell Kirk in the early 90's shortly after returning home from the New Hampshire Primary where I'd helped arrainge a Campaign Visit to Lansing by Pat Buchannon at LCC's Dart Auditorium.