Russel Kirk

Russell Kirk and Community-Based Conservatism

It is continually troublesome that so many of my conservative brethren are intellectually deficient when it comes to all things conservative. This may explain why we failed to successfully deliver our message in the last election – and we have no one to blame but ourselves (along with, perhaps, some left-wing media bias). Our knowledge only seems to stretch as far as the hot-button issues of the age – gun rights, abortion, the budget – with our primary source for conservatism being Fox News. These issues are all primary to our country, but perhaps we must take a look in the rear-view mirror and extract the lost parts of conservatism that transcend what media outlets cover today, and in the process more effectively solve these issues.

Equally as troubling to me is that conservatives have in many ways forgotten the past and the “traditions” we are known for being so attached to. I am astounded at the “household” conservative’s lack of knowledge about the early intellectual giants of the movement they proclaim as their own, in particular, the late Russell Kirk. This obligates me to find what wiser men have written in the past and use this more intellectual conservatism to counter the Liberal ideologues of our generation.

If what conservatives drew from the last election was that conservatism is in trouble, this may be so but I believe the saving grace of conservatism has already been articulated by a conservative. Dr. Russell Kirk is one of these academics who built the base of conservatism decades ago; I suggest every conservative get to know him better. My purpose is not to give a biographical analysis of the life or works of Kirk, but rather to point out what might be most essential to learn from him in order to strengthen conservatism at large.

Although much can be learned for Kirk, I find his bias towards community to be most appealing and essential today. The eighth of his Ten Conservative Principles states that “conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism” and goes on to describe Americans as “a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community”. But we as conservatives have failed to articulate this belief, specifically to on-the-fence voters and minority voters who only view conservatives as individualistic or bigoted. As they are not going to desert these beliefs themselves, we have to denounce these assumptions and set before them a more Kirkian conservatism which may be more appealing.

When Kirk refers to community he is meaning the social institutions of which community is composed – starting with the family, church, local government, and other institutions. When working together, these institutions breed a healthy community and as Kirk said, “it is the performance of our duties in community that teaches us prudence and efficiency and charity”.

I anticipate this “sect” of conservatism to appeal to a broader voting base, particularly the younger generation and “hipster” types, but more notably to minorities, who form their own communities in every major city across the country, take Chicago for example. So it would make sense that a more genuine approach to community by conservatives would attract this crucial voting demographic. However, the Kirkian conservatism is not so much concerned with winning votes as it is restoring moral order and adhering to custom, convention, and continuity, as his first and second principles explain. Both of these ideas make sense in appealing to minorities.

Our generation needs to shed the stereotypes of conservatives as the bigoted, Fox News watching, individualistic, crony-capitalists and control our own destiny by rediscovering intellectual conservatism. By examining our past, we can both inform the future and better understand the present. Kirk’s conservatism values most the moral regeneration of our country, a process which begins from the bottom up with local communities and their structures. We should seek what Kirk referred to to as “public-spirited” conservatism.


Derek Draplin | University of Michigan | @DDraps24

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6 Responses

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  1. Joe
    Apr 24, 2013 - 11:09 AM

    I am old enough to have seen Russell Kirk speak at my college in the early 1960s. His books, my favorite being “Enemies of the Permanent Things,” are a must read for anyone who is interested in the intellectual side of conservatism.

    In another direction, I believe that the comments of Mr. Rushlau above are as foolish as the words that flow forth from the spokesmen for the current administration.

    • Mark
      Apr 29, 2013 - 08:25 AM


      Rushlau’s comments are typical of his average post. Start to make a comment and then get around to bashing Israel and the Jewish people.

  2. Christopher Rushlau
    Apr 24, 2013 - 09:51 AM

    Speaking of marketing, you didn’t say enough about him to whet my appetite. In fact, you left me suspicious. You mentioned this pair of his objectives: restoring moral order and returning to convention, custom, and something. I expected to see the word “law”, and then some specific discussion.
    If I am right and the Israel lobby has gone out and purchased the Republican Party at a lawn sale three or four years back, the bad thing about that is that Israel is a racist state: it rejects separation of church and state and it rejects equal treatment under the laws. With that kind of “crony-capitalism”, you’re not going to get many people to shed images of conservatives as “bigoted” if you want them to flock to the Republican banner.
    Which raises a good question. What about conservatism as a Democratic Party value? Let’s take the egregious Garrison Keillor as a typical Democrat, judging by his “Prairie Home Companion” show which I used to listen to on public radio before it converted, with the rest of public radio, to being the “Joe-ish Home Companion” (as someone quipped on Mondoweiss): the voice of American counter-terror. Two Democratic values, top two: community and justice. Top no-no, “guys in suits”.
    The point of law may be to force you to make your politics more specific. Whom exactly do you want the sheriff deputy to arrest and what is she supposed to say when the tv news catches her? When the sheriff auctions off your farm, you know law matters.
    I’m running on here, but Israel, most egregiously (“out of the flock”), is sitting on stolen land, speaking of what people remember. I’ll bet the US self-identifying Joe-ish public is the natural core of a conservative movement that can carry its own water and make the Parties listen, or go around them to the public. That’d be where “conservative” and “liberal” are essentially synonyms, in both viewing law as the means for persons to escape oppression, mostly, and then, and only sparingly, get a second chance when disaster happens. “Get off my back” mostly, and then slightly, “but could you help me remember what I was doing when I was attacked”? What does a labor union guy think of as government: rent-a-cops hired by the factory owner. Why shouldn’t a union be the exact counterpart of a limited liability corporation (as my Joe-ish, yet pro-Israel, yet sorely troubled by Israel) mentor at law school asked in Con Law once). What tv conservatives abuse as liberals are the academics, clerics, and civil servants who have definitely sold their souls to, in the current era, the Joe-ish state in Palestine. But civil servants are always likely to do that. The problem for the Democrats is their dependency on churches (temples) and teachers-professors who are now Gleichschaltung-ed for Israel whereas before they could supply some discussion space and moral energy for politics outside of City Hall politics. But I’m saying you could shear off–finesse–that whole echelon of paid-opinion and talk to the Democratic man/woman-in-the-street (go ahead and laugh), who’d agree with you that the suits have taken over the party and are, no, have, run it into the ground, so that a couple of stiffs like McCain and Romney almost beat this Reagan-esque media star now in office. Schmaltz under threat from stiffery: a nation in turmoil.

    • Mark
      Apr 29, 2013 - 08:23 AM

      The world is run by the Jews, isn’t it Christopher?

      Have you read your daily chapter of Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion today?

      Sent off a funding check to any Jew-hating jihadi Muslim groups? (BTW, are those tax deductible?)

      Nothing but a virulent, anti-semitic racist. I really wish the mods would delete your comments.

  3. docnick
    Apr 24, 2013 - 09:13 AM

    Derek, Good article… Write more..




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