ISI Books has brought out a rich new collection of Russell Kirk’s writings: The Essential Russell Kirk, edited by George A. Panichas. It will serve nicely as an introduction to one of the great but greatly neglected men of American Letters. A Conservative truly and a gentleman, Kirk influenced the postwar history of the Republic — though his usual position was in dissent — in inscrutable but profound ways. The breadth of his reflections, the careful elegance of his style, the depth of his erudition, the joy and gratitude in his heart, and his candor about the crisis that confronts modern man: each is robustly demonstrated in this volume.
Kirk will ever be associated with the name Edmund Burke: for that alone — for reviving interest in the greatest Conservative of the modern age — he would be justly memorialized. But he accomplished much more. He brought the word ideology under the obloquy it so richly deserved, turning hundreds of aspiring Conservatives away from this ruinous intoxicant. In his fiction as well as his essays, he subtly emphasized the mystery of life on this earth, the ineradicable duality of man, caught as he is between his animal nature and his longings for the supernatural. He revitalized interest in other worthy figures: the fascinating and enigmatic John Randolph of Roanoke, the House of Representative’s greatest orator; the intellectual peregrinator Orestes Brownson, once given the astonishing honor of the title “an American Newman”; the forgotten traditionalists of the interwar years, Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More; and many more.
The most basic need of man, according to Russell Kirk, is order. Discovering, illuminating and defending the principles of American order was his vocation, which he carried out with grace, wit and intrepidity — as the reader of this volume will discover forthwith.