Redeeming the Time (Russell Kirk)

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Kirk, Russell. Redeeming the Time. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006.

Russell Kirk suggests that Western culture isn’t necessarily doomed. There are ways to slow the decay. Whether or not that is true, and I remain doubtful, we can take much advice from his suggestions on how to order the soul.

Order in the soul and order in the polis parallel each other. Kirk writes, “Order, in the moral realm, is the realizing of a body of transcendent norms--indeed a hierarchy of norms or standards--which give purpose to existence and motive to conduct” (Kirk 33). Society does have a contract, but it isn’t Rousseau’s ghastly experiment. Rather, with Edmund Burke we hold that the “rights of towns, the independence of guilds, the code of chivalry--these arose out of faith in what Burke was to call the contract of eternal society” (31).

There is no point in trying to give an analysis of Kirk’s views of education. The best thing to do is simply quote him. A liberal education is actually conservative because it defends order against disorder (43). True education is meant to develop the individual human being rather than to serve the state.

Continuing Kirk’s thoughts on education we see a defense of reading fiction. It’s probably the best defense ever given. It might be tempting for legalists and hyper-gnostics to disavow the reading of fiction because “it isn’t true” (never mind Jesus’s parables). Rather, good fiction trains the emotions. He defines “moral imagination” as a high power of perception that penetrates the human condition (69). A purified moral imagination will apprehend the connection between the right order in the soul and the right order in the commonwealth. These great books train our moral faculties. This relates to what Kirk calls “sentiment.” A sentiment is somewhere between thought and feeling (131). These are what you will fall back on in a crisis. It won’t be syllogisms that keep you from retreating in battle. It will be because your moral faculties have been purified and exalted.

Kirk has a fun chapter on architecture. In short, dehumanizing and modern architecture (whether in its Soviet or mass man variety) keeps man perpetually discontented (87). Kirk suggests this is so because it creates boredom. That’s no doubt true, but I think it is deeper than that. Modern architecture illustrates an open attack upon an ordered telos. Humane architecture, by contrast, focuses on the person, rather than the expediency (which, for what it's worth, it never obtains). Humane architecture illustrates that the community remains a community; it nurtures roots (91). I urge the reader to visit Wrath of Gnon’s social media profiles to see exciting examples of urban renewal.

There is some repetition in this book, as many of the essays are also found in The Wise Men Know. There is new material, though. The essays on education, virtue, and architecture are worth the entire book.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Jacob, I love your new avatar (I am a fan of the Lord Peter Wimsey series). What is Kirk's best book?

I'm listening to the Ian Carmichael audio. The prose is simply exquisite.

The best place to start with Kirk is Kirk's Concise Guide to Conservatism. Then from there go to this volume. From this volume you should be ready for The Conservative Mind.

In some ways, though, it's almost as fun to begin with Kirk's fiction. He was a fairly talented ghost story writer.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Kirk's autobiography of course is fantastic if you can forgive him using third person.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Jacob, I love your new avatar (I am a fan of the Lord Peter Wimsey series). What is Kirk's best book?

Try Old House of Fear. It's not really relevant to conservatism, aside from some vague anti-communist sentiments. I wouldn't call it a ghost story, since there aren't any ghosts in it. It is close to the idea of "subtle horror." It's fun, though.
 
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