The Conservative Mind

From Burke to Eliot

Russell Kirk

Regnery, 1953 (2001), 535pp

Recent NR article stated this book, along with God and Man at Yale and Witness, ignited the conservative movement in the early 1950s.

The Making of The Conservative Mind

Kirk sends Henry Regnery "a postcard from Trier, Germany, ... of the Roman Porta Negra, ... [Regnery's] publishing insignia" (ii).

Foreword to the 7th revised edition

I. The Idea of Conservatism

"'The Stupid Party': this is John Stuart Mill's description of conservatives" (3).

The 6 canons of conservative thought:
1) belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law
2) affection for the "mysterious incorporation of the human race"
3) civilized society requires orders, classes
4) freedom and property are closely linked
5) prescription vs. abstract designs
6) change is not always good

At least 5 major schools of radical thought ... since Burke (8-9):
- the rationalism of the philosophes
- the romantic emancipation of Rousseau and his allies
- the utilitarianism of the Benthamites
- the positivism of Comte's school
- the collectivistic materialism of Marx and other socialists

II. Burke and the Politics of Prescription

1. Burke's Career

2. The Radical Systems

3. Providence and Veneration

4. Prejudice and Prescription

5. The Rights of Civil Social Man

6. Equality and Aristocracy

7. The Principle of Order

III. John Adams and Liberty Under Law

1. Federalists and Republicans

2. Alexander Hamilton

3. Fisher Ames' vaticinations

4. John Adams as psychologist

5. The aristrocracy of nature

6. American constitutions

"The new liberalism would tolerate no authority. 'Liberalism, as the political expression of individualism, therefore espoused freedom for the individual from all personal, arbitrary authority,' J. H. Hallowell cogently says. 'Starting from the premise of the absolute value and dignity of human personality, liberals necessarily demanded freedom for each individual, from the state, from every arbitrary will. Only when liberalism coupled the contract theory with the belief in objective truth and value, transcending all individuals and binding upon each without promise, could it reconcile freedom from arbitrary authority with the idea of an ordered common wealth.' But the contract theory of society rested upon religious assumptions; and as religious faith decayed among the liberals, their confidence in their own predicates was diseased. More than this, their sentimental individualism soon became shocked at its own practical consequences: the economic competition and the spiritual isolation which resulted from the triumph of their ideas provoked among them a reaction in favor of powerful benevolent governments exercising compulsions. This intellectual and political process, of which France from 1789 to 1797 was the microcosm, now appears to have been the course of liberalism from the 18C to the 20th. The progress of British liberal politics from Fox to Asquith, of American liberal ideas from Jefferson to FDR, suggest the rule" (103).

7. Marshall and the metamorphosis of federalism

IV. Romantics and Utilitarians

1. Benthamism and Walter Scott

"Through Bentham, those revolutionary principles against which Burke fought so hard entered into English politics" (115, quoting Crane Brinton).

2. Canning and enlightened conservatism

3. Coleridge and conservative ideas

4. The triumph of abstraction

V. Southern Conservatism: Randolph and Calhoun

VI. Liberal Conservatives: Macaulay, Cooper, Tocqueville

VII. Transitional Conservatism: New England Sketches

VIII. Conservatism with Imagination: Disraeli and Newman

IX. Legal and Historical Conservatism: A Time of Foreboding

X. Conservatism Frustrated: America, 1865-1918

XI. English Conservatism Adrift: The 20C

XII. Critical Conservatism: Babbitt, More, Santayana

XIII. Conservatives' Promise