Goodreads helps you follow your favorite authors. Be the first to learn about new releases!
Start by following Russell Kirk.

Russell Kirk Russell Kirk > Quotes


more photos (1)

Russell Kirk quotes (showing 1-30 of 62)

“Men cannot improve a society by setting fire to it: they must seek out its old virtues, and bring them back into the light.”
Russell Kirk
“I did not love cold harmony and perfect regularity of organization; what I sought was variety, mystery, tradition, the venerable, the awful. I despised sophisters and calculators; I was groping for faith, honor, and prescriptive loyalties. I would have given any number of neo-classical pediments for one poor battered gargoyle.”
Russell Kirk
“If you want to have order in the commonwealth, you first have to have order in the individual soul.”
Russell Kirk
“In any society, order is the first need of all. Liberty and justice may be established only after order is tolerably secure. But the libertarians give primacy to an abstract liberty. Conservatives, knowing that "liberty inheres in some sensible object," are aware that true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the constitutional order of these United States. In exalting an absolute and indefinable "liberty" at the expense of order, the libertarians imperil the very freedoms they praise.”
Russell Kirk
“I am a conservative. Quite possibly I am on the losing side; often I think so. Yet, out of a curious perversity I had rather lose with Socrates, let us say, than win with Lenin.”
Russell Kirk
“Rousseau and his disciples were resolved to force men to be free; in most of the world, they triumphed; men are set free from family, church, town, class, guild; yet they wear, instead, the chains of the state, and they expire of ennui or stifling lone lines.”
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
“The conservative "thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom. The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature. In his march toward Utopia, the ideologue is merciless.”
Russell Kirk
“It is good for a student to be poor. Getting and spending, the typical American college student lays waste his powers. Work and contemplation don't mix, and university days ought to be days of contemplation.”
Russell Kirk
“The twentieth-century conservative is concerned, first of all, for the regeneration of the spirit and character – with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest.”
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
“Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world's richest nations.”
Russell Kirk, Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective
“There are six canons of conservative thought:

1) Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems. A narrow rationality, what Coleridge called the Understanding, cannot of itself satisfy human needs. "Every Tory is a realist," says Keith Feiling: "he knows that there are great forces in heaven and earth that man's philosophy cannot plumb or fathom." True politics is the art of apprehending and applying the Justice which ought to prevail in a community of souls.

2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems; conservatives resist what Robert Graves calls "Logicalism" in society. This prejudice has been called "the conservatism of enjoyment"--a sense that life is worth living, according to Walter Bagehot "the proper source of an animated Conservatism."

3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a "classless society." With reason, conservatives have been called "the party of order." If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom.

4) Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all. Economic levelling, they maintain, is not economic progress.

5) Faith in prescription and distrust of "sophisters, calculators, and economists" who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man's anarchic impulse and upon the innovator's lust for power.

6) Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman's chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.”
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
“Real literature is something much better than a harmless instrument for getting through idle hours. The purpose of great literature is to help us to develop into full human beings.”
Russell Kirk
“Libertarians (like anarchists and Marxists) generally believe that human nature is good, though damaged by certain social institutions. Conservatives, on the contrary, hold that "in Adam's fall we sinned all": human nature, though compounded of both good and evil, is irremediably flawed; so the perfection of society is impossible, all human beings being imperfect.”
Russell Kirk
“Mine was not an Enlightened mind, I now was aware: it was a Gothic mind, medieval in its temper and structure. I did not love cold harmony and perfect regularity of organization; what I sought was variety, mystery, tradition, the venerable, the awful.”
Russell Kirk
“Most of us are not really so arrogant as to think we have a right to remold the world in our image. The best we can do, toward redeeming the states of Europe and Asia from the menace of revolution and the distresses of our time, is to realize our own conservative character, suspicious of doctrinaire alteration, respectful toward history, preferring variety over uniformity, acknowledging a moral order composed of human persons, not of mere political and economic atoms subservient to the state. We have not been appointed the correctors of mankind; but, under God, we may be an example to mankind.”
Russell Kirk
“Life is for action, and if we desire to know anything, we must make up our minds to be ignorant about much.”
Russell Kirk, Academic Freedom: An Essay in Definition
“What is the object of human life? The enlightened conservative does not believe that the end or aim of life is competition; or success; or enjoyment; or longevity; or power; or possessions. He believes instead, that the object of life is Love. He knows that the just and ordered society is that in which Love governs us, so far as Love ever can reign in this world of sorrows; and he
knows that the anarchical or the tyrannical society is that in which Love lies corrupt. He has learnt that Love is the source of all being, and that Hell itself is ordained by Love. He understands that Death, when we have finished the part that was assigned to us, is the reward of Love. And he
apprehends the truth that the greatest happiness ever granted to a man is the privilege of being happy in the hour of his death.

He has no intention of converting this human society of ours into an efficient machine for efficient machine-operators, dominated by master mechanics. Men are put into this world, he realizes, to
struggle, to suffer, to contend against the evil that is in their neighbors and in themselves, and to aspire toward the triumph of Love. They are put into this world to live like men, and to die like men. He seeks to preserve a society which allows men to attain manhood, rather than keeping them within bonds of perpetual childhood. With Dante, he looks upward from this place of slime, this world of gorgons and chimeras, toward the light which gives Love to this poor earth and all the stars. And, with Burke, he knows that "they will never love where they ought to love, who do not hate where they ought to hate.”
Russell Kirk
“In a revolutionary epoch, sometimes men taste every novelty, sicken of them all, and return to ancient principles so long disused that they seem refreshingly hearty when they are rediscovered.”
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
“Burke, could he see our century, never would concede that a consumption-society is the end for which Providence has prepared man.”
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
“We ought not to endeavor to revise history according to our latter day notions of what things ought to have been, or upon the theory that the past is simply a reflection of the present”
Russell Kirk, Academic Freedom: An Essay in Definition
“[A] people needs to understand what freedom is. We Americans are fortunate that the Founders and their generation possessed that understanding. They knew that freedom, per se, is not enough. They knew that freedom must be limited to be preserved. This paradox is difficult for many students to grasp. Young people generally think freedom means authority figures leaving them alone so they can "do their own thing." That's part of what it means to be free, but true freedom involves much, much more. As understood by our Founders and by the best minds of the young republic, true freedom is always conditioned by morality. John Adams wrote, "I would define liberty as a power to do as we would be done by." In other words, freedom is not the power to do what one can, but what one ought. Duty always accompanies liberty. Tocqueville similarly observed, "No free communities ever existed without morals." The best minds concur: there must be borders: freedom must be limited to be preserved.

What kinds of limits are we talking about?
* The moral limits of right and wrong, which we did not invent but owe largely to our Judeo-Christian heritage.
* Intellectual limits imposed by sound reasoning. Again, we did not invent these but are in debt largely to Greco-Roman civilization, from the pre-Socratic philosophers forward.
* Political limits such as the rule of law, inalienable rights, and representative institutions, which we inherited primarily from the British.
* Legal limits of the natural and common law, which we also owe to our Western heritage.
* Certain social limits, which are extremely important to the survival of freedom. These are the habits of our hearts--good manners, kindness, decency, and willingness to put others first, among other things--which are learned in our homes and places of worship, at school and in team sports, and in other social settings.

All these limits complement each other and make a good society possible. But they cannot be taken for granted. It takes intellectual and moral leadership to make the case that such limits are important. Our Founders did that. To an exceptional degree, their words tutored succeeding generations in the ways of liberty. It is to America's everlasting credit that our Founders got freedom right.”
Russell Kirk, American Cause
“Two centuries ago, the United States settled into a permanent political order, after fourteen years of violence and heated debate. Two centuries ago, France fell into ruinous disorder that ran its course for twenty-four years. In both countries there resounded much ardent talk of rights--rights natural, rights prescriptive. . . .

[F]anatic ideology had begun to rage within France, so that not one of the liberties guaranteed by the Declaration of the Rights of Man could be enjoyed by France's citizens. One thinks of the words of Dostoievski: "To begin with unlimited liberty is to end with unlimited despotism." . . .

In striking contrast, the twenty-two senators and fifty-nine representatives who during the summer of 1789 debated the proposed seventeen amendments to the Constitution were men of much experience in representative government, experience acquired within the governments of their several states or, before 1776, in colonial assembles and in the practice of the law. Many had served in the army during the Revolution. They decidedly were political realists, aware of how difficult it is to govern men's passions and self-interest. . . . Among most of them, the term democracy was suspect. The War of Independence had sufficed them by way of revolution. . . .

The purpose of law, they knew, is to keep the peace. To that end, compromises must be made among interests and among states. Both Federalists and Anti-Federalists ranked historical experience higher than novel theory. They suffered from no itch to alter American society radically; they went for sound security. The amendments constituting what is called the Bill of Rights were not innovations, but rather restatements of principles at law long observed in Britain and in the thirteen colonies. . . .

The Americans who approved the first ten amendments to their Constitution were no ideologues. Neither Voltaire nor Rousseau had any substantial following among them. Their political ideas, with few exceptions, were those of English Whigs. The typical textbook in American history used to inform us that Americans of the colonial years and the Revolutionary and Constitutional eras were ardent disciples of John Locke. This notion was the work of Charles A. Beard and Vernon L. Parrington, chiefly. It fitted well enough their liberal convictions, but . . . it has the disadvantage of being erroneous. . . .

They had no set of philosophes inflicted upon them. Their morals they took, most of them, from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Their Bill of Rights made no reference whatever to political abstractions; the Constitution itself is perfectly innocent of speculative or theoretical political arguments, so far as its text is concerned. John Dickinson, James Madison, James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, George Mason, and other thoughtful delegates to the Convention in 1787 knew something of political theory, but they did not put political abstractions into the text of the Constitution. . . .

Probably most members of the First Congress, being Christian communicants of one persuasion or another, would have been dubious about the doctrine that every man should freely indulge himself in whatever is not specifically prohibited by positive law and that the state should restrain only those actions patently "hurtful to society." Nor did Congress then find it necessary or desirable to justify civil liberties by an appeal to a rather vague concept of natural law . . . .

Two centuries later, the provisions of the Bill of Rights endure--if sometimes strangely interpreted. Americans have known liberty under law, ordered liberty, for more than two centuries, while states that have embraced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, with its pompous abstractions, have paid the penalty in blood.”
Russell Kirk, Rights And Duties: Reflections On Our Conservative Constitution
“The trouble with purging the school curriculum of religious knowledge is that ultimate questions cannot be answered without reference to religious beliefs or at least to philosophy. With religion expelled from the schools, a clear field was left for the entrance of the mode of belief called humanitarianism, or secular humanism--the latter a term employed by the cultural historian Christopher Dawson. During the past four decades and more, the place that religion used to hold in American schooling, always a rather modest and non-dogmatic place, has been filled by secular humanism. Its root principle is that human nature and society may be perfected without the operation of divine grace. . . .

In his book A Common Faith (1934), [John] Dewey advocated his brand of humanism as a religion. "Here are all the elements for a religious faith that shall not be confined to sect, class, or race," he wrote. "Such a faith has always been implicitly the common faith of mankind. It remains to make it explicit and militant."

Much more evidence exists to suggest that humanitarianism, or secular humanism, should be regarded in law as a religion, with respect to both establishment and free exercise in the First Amendment. It is this non-theistic religion, hostile to much of the established morality and many existing American institutions, that has come close to being established as a "civil religion" in American public schools.”
Russell Kirk, Rights And Duties: Reflections On Our Conservative Constitution
“Demosthenes, the great Athenian patriot, cried out to his countrymen when they seemed too confused and divided to stand against the tyranny of Macedonia: “In God's name, I beg of you to think.” For a long while, most Athenians ridiculed Demosthenes’ entreaty: Macedonia was a great way distant, and there was plenty of time. Only at the eleventh hour did the Athenians perceive the truth of his exhortations. And that eleventh hour was too late. So it may be with Americans today. If we are too indolent to think, we might as well surrender to our enemies tomorrow.”
Russell Kirk, American Cause
“The libertarian thinks that this world is chiefly a stage for the swaggering ego; the conservative finds himself instead a pilgrim in a realm of mystery and wonder, where duty, discipline, and sacrifice are required-and where the reward is that love which passeth all understanding.”
Russell Kirk
“Even the wisest of mankind cannot live by reason alone; pure arrogant reason, denying the claims of prejudice (which commonly are also the claims of conscience), leads to a wasteland of withered hopes and crying loneliness, empty of God and man: the wilderness in which Satan tempted Christ was not more dreadful than the arid expanse of intellectual vanity deprived of tradition and intuition, where modern man is tempted by his own pride.”
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
“Kirk defined the ideologue as one who “thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature.” Unleashed during the most radical phase of the French Revolution, the spirit of ideology has metastasized over the past two centuries, wreaking horrors. Jacobinism, Anarchism, Marxism, Leninism, Fascism, Stalinism, Nazism, Maoism—all shared the fatal attraction to “political messianism”; all were “inverted religions.” Each of these ideologies preached a dogmatic approach to politics, economics, and culture. Each in its own way endeavored “to substitute secular goals and doctrines for religious goals and doctrines.” Thus did the ideologue promise “salvation in this world, hotly declaring that there exists no other realm of being.”17”
Russell Kirk, The American Cause
“Either order in the cosmos is real, or all is chaos. If we are adrift in chaos, then the fragile egalitarian doctrines and emancipating programs of the revolutionary reformers have no significance; for in a vortex of chaos, only force and appetite signify.”
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
“But instead of this world unification ushering in an age of prosperity and peace, as most globalists believe it will, it will be a time of unimaginable human suffering as recorded in God's Word. The Anti-christ will tightly regulate who may buy and sell.”
Russell Kirk
“freedom can be achieved and retained only by sober men who take humanity as it is, not as humanity should be.”
Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot

« previous 1 3

All Quotes | Add A Quote
Play The 'Guess That Quote' Game

The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot The Conservative Mind
976 ratings
Open Preview
Roots Of American Order Roots Of American Order
260 ratings
Open Preview
Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales Ancestral Shadows
87 ratings
The Politics Of Prudence The Politics Of Prudence
95 ratings
Open Preview