The Politics Of Prudence by Russel Kirk Reissued — And Reviewed

The Politics Of Prudence by Russel Kirk Reissued — And Reviewed

There have been many purges on the right, led for instance by National Review and William F Buckley, removing from polite society those who were considered “extreme” elements. People who would embarrass conservatives among their liberal friends. Paul E. Gottfried has been documenting this depressing trend for years (do read this).

An infamous example is the quiet purge of Patrick Buchanan, a true Reality-based rightist who had the temerity to run for President. Buchanan likely now spends his quiet days shaking his head saying “I told you so.”

As the left became more woke, those who would make professional conservatives blush only grew, thus increasing the pressure to purge. The NRO is now known for “Conservative case for” articles for whatever new woke cause captures their attention. There is scarcely any true rightist remaining among official conservatives. All they have left are people like David French, Jonah Goldberg, Ben Shapiro and the like.

One man they never had the chance to chuck out, even though he was a thorough-going paleo, was Russell Kirk, but only because Kirk had the good sense to die in 1994 (at 75) before they could get to him.

This belabored throat-clearing is necessary, because Regnery has reissued, with new Introduction by Michael P. Federici, Kirk’s The Politics of Prudence (they provided me with a review copy). And because in this book, Kirk often uses the word “conservative”, a word which we now take to mean left-leaning toothless wolf in rightist clothing. But when he used it, the word still had some bite.

Kirk, of course, was most famous for his book The Conservative Mind, which he (as many of you know) wanted to title The Conservative Rout. That’s certainty a more accurate, albeit more depressing, title. It was a detailing of the lineaments (one of Kirk’s favorite words) of rightist thinking “From Burke to Eliot”.

Prudence is less well known, but is likely a better “intro” book to have your once-lefty friends read. That is, the kind of people who considered themselves good leftists, but became frightened and left behind by the woke as they lurch toward the Cliff.

The book is a series of lectures Kirk gave toward the end of his career, and make for pleasurable light instructive reading. Things like Ten Conservative Principles, or Thinkers or Books. Good, as I say, especially for those who have never before been exposed to Reality-based thinking.

Good for us, too. Many gems here. Like tips on necessary books to read, many of which are now forgotten. Some juicy quotes:

Ideology, in short, is a political formula that promises mankind an earthly paradise; but in cruel fact what ideology has created is a series of terrestrial hells…

The attitude we call conservatism is a sustained body of sentiments, rather than a system of ideological dogmata…

[T]he reasons for the decadence of modern society, the substitution of a bureaucratic specialized elite for a healthy leading class…

Ever since the forming of the Union in 1787, the dominant political tendency in the southern states has been resistance to centralizing power….

[Libertarians] rejoice in the radicalism of Tom Paine; they even applaud those seventeeth-century radicals the Levellers and the Diggers, who would have pulled down all land-bundaries, and have pulled down, too, the whole framework of church and state…

Some keen readers will recall the article on libertarianism in National Review, a few years ago [which must have been the 1980s], by that mordant psychologist and sociologist Dr. Ernest van den Haag, who remarked that an unusually high proportion of professed libertarians are homosexuals. In politics as in private life, they demand what nature cannot afford…

I fear that few books by Neoconservatives will still be read by 2000…I predict that within very few years we will hear little more of the Neoconservatives.

I end with those last two not to show Kirk’s prediction gone wrong. He nailed the character of neocons absolutely. He says, rightly, that neocons do not hold “long views” and lack “apprehension of the human condition which form a footing for successful statecraft.” Even better:

I had thought that the Neoconservatives might become the champions of champions of diversity in the world; instead, they aspire to bring about a world of uniformity and dull standardization.

And war. They love to bomb foreigners who do not adore, with sufficient assiduity, either Democracy or Our Greatest Ally™. Recall Kirk died before Iraq.

Besides the bloodlust of neocons, Kirk, being a classical conservative, lamented our consuming Centralization and growth of the Expertocracy (he didn’t call it that). We learn he would do what needs to be done to so-called higher education. Which is eliminate most of it. “It needs to be remembered that university and college are centers for the study of abstractions; and most people’s interest in abstractions is distinctly limited.” Kirk did not believe in the blank slate.

His talk on, what Orwell called, the proles deserves to be better known, especially in an “Our Democracy” where votes are so easily manipulated.

The proletariat, in short, is a mass of people who have lost—if they ever possessed—community, hope of betterment, moral convictions, habits of work, sense of personal responsibility, intellectual curiosity, membership in a healthy family, property, active participation in public concerns, religious associations, and awareness of ends or objects in human existence.

He rightly derides the “heresy of democracy”, which is the false but beloved slogan vox populi vox dei.

Reading these essays, and even though Kirk sprinkles a bit of hopium here and there, proves to the reader his first title for his most famous book was best, and even more apt than ever.

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  1. Michael

    Wow! Thank you.

  2. NLR

    That’s an insightful quote about the proletariat. Since democracy means the “rule of the people”, to have a democracy, you must have a people. And a people is different from a mass or what Kirk calls the proletariat. To just be part of the masses means you have no strong foundation in anything, you just go along with whatever comes down the pipeline. In contrast, from prehistoric times on up until relatively recently pretty much everybody was a people ad knew it.

    If you have enough people who let themselves become part of “the masses”, then you don’t have a democracy, you have something else. Being part of the sasses isn’t about education either, a bugman is basically an educated proletariat, in Kirk’s sense.

  3. Jim Fedako

    To quote one of my favorite writers excommunicated by Buckley, Frank Chodorov, “As for me, I will punch anyone who calls me a conservative in the nose.”

  4. Gunther Heinz

    If not chastity, prudence.

  5. Briggs


    A classic.

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