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The Conservative Mind

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  671 ratings  ·  49 reviews
"It is inconceivable even to imagine, let alone hope for, a dominant conservative movement in America without Kirk's labor." — William F. Buckley, Jr.

Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind is one of the greatest contributions to twentieth-century American conservatism. Brilliant in every respect, from its conception to its choice of significant figures representing the histo
Paperback, 534 pages
Published September 1st 2001 by Regnery Publishing (first published 1953)
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Jeremy Purves
This book is simply astonishing. Voluminous, clear and concise, Kirk traces the history of thought and distinguishes between conservative thought in both Britain and America and other radical and progressive ideas. The result is a rich literary tradition and foundation that I fear most modern conservatives remain ignorant of.

The result has also convinced me (in a manner that I have never been able to understand as clearly before) that one of the primary intellectual characteristics of traditiona
We are yanking free the anchors, worrying loose the cables, and where once this was effected with radical fervor, it's now a consequence of indolence, of decay, of corruption. Our politics are dominated by preeners who speak as utopians and govern as apparatchiks. Our news is brought to us by people who understand little of what they attempt to relate. Our children are instructed by dullards. Our churches continue to splinter, our civil bonds disintegrate, and a near-majority of adults choose ei ...more
Ben Batchelder
When published by Russell Kirk in 1953, “Conservative Mind” was an oxymoron to morons, such were the stultifying orthodoxies of liberal thought. While it still may appear so to some, Russell’s grounding of the conservative American tradition “From Burke to Eliot” in fact gave a significant push to a movement on the cusp of intellectual renewal. What a pleasure to read a book which so easily swept away the remaining pieties of my liberal upbringing in the ‘60s and ‘70's. It helped me to re-learn ...more
For most of human history, change has been a glacier -- slow to move, retreating as much as it advances. Since the scientific and industrial revolutions, however, change is less a glacier and more a snowball, moving with rapidity, becoming ever more drastic, and picking up speed. Russell Kirk would remind modern readers that snowball modernity is moving, like other snowballs, downhill. In The Conservative Mind, he collects and comments on the thoughts of those who, since the Pandora's box of rev ...more
This is one of the most important books I have ever read. There are probably ten books in that category right now. Either I have extraordinary good fortune in the books I select, or I am too easily impressed. Hmm.

Although I had gathered before now that a gigantic chasm exists between the old world of Christendom and the new world of Modernity, the realization is refreshed and sharpened with almost every book I read now. This particular book helped that realization coalesce into concrete principl
Sean Chick
Kirk has both a thorough knowledge of the subject and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, his language is too often given to hyperbole and he constantly overstates the influence of certain men. Edmund Burke is not the only reason Britain hewed to the conservative path. Indeed, Burke in general is treated with a holy reverence that gets under the skin rather quickly. The anti-democratic impulse that courses through this book is amusing and makes me wonder why so many American conservatives praise this wor ...more
According to Kirk, conservatives are skeptical of all big plans to remodel society or reform government based out of some ideology, doctrine, or a priori plan. Conservatives respect a nation's leaders because they are leaders, even if they disagree with them: the honor and authority of the institution is more important than the individual, even as the nation is more important than the party. Conservatives are skeptical of the market, and its socially corrosive tendency to reduce all values to th ...more
Eric Orchard
An important exploration of conservative thought. Russel touches on the words and ideas of conservatives beginning with Edmund Burke going on to Coleridge and the Romantics and through to some mid century politicians and thinkers. I think it's an important book for people of all political leanings as it clearly lays out the roots of conservatism and explains its distaste of ideology. It also describes a conservatism that may be lost, an intellectual, nuanced and thoughtful brand of conservatism.
Mário Lopes
A thorough and detailed exposition of the evolution of the conservative thought since the writings of Edmund Burke. It is an interesting reading for all those trying to understand the conservative underpinnings, which Disraeli summarised as the reliance upon Providence, aristocracy and tradition, although Kirk makes a strong argument for the respect of individual liberty and private property as well.

Despite Kirk's tremendous endeavour of delving into such a relevant topic of political philosophy
Jeremiah Lorrig
"Conservatism is too often conservation of the wrong things: liberalism a relaxation of discipline; revolution a denial of the permanent things.” - T.S. Eliot

This book lives this principle. Kirk is at his best when he is battling "revolution" and appealing to the permanent things. He does very well at advocating a careful discipline that unfolds liberalism at its roots. He does poorly when he allows his conservatism to pin him into conserving the wrong things.

The sections on Burke and Eliot ar
An elegant book of political thought. A true classic of Anglo-American writing. Kirk's best or greatest achievement.

Kirk with others in the early post-war period re-established the thinking man's republicanism solidly on the shoulders of Edmund Burke in Britain as well as Hamilton or Adams in the States.

The entire sweep of Western intellectual history is contextualized in a manner that impressed the readership of the New York Times while earning the highest accolades of the conservative moveme
This was a survey of British and American conservative thought and thinkers from Edmund Burke to T.S. Eliot. An enlightening and at times dense book, it was well worth the effort. Helped me identify things I may have felt or presumed in my own thoughts that I might not have articulated very well before. It was also useful for contextualizing where we find ourselves politically in 21st century America. Conservatism, as explained through Kirk, is not an ideology per se, but the presumptions about ...more
James (JD) Dittes
What is a Conservative? Do they exist anymore? Amid the radical right-wing politics of today--torture, contempt for constitutional rights, a hijacking by the gun and energy lobbies--do real conservatives exist anymore?

That's why I checked out _The Conservative Mind_ on audiobook. I knew vaguely about Burke's "Notes on the Revolution in France." A book that promised to trace his influence down to the 1950s seemed irresistible.

For the first 100 years of his study, Kirk relies on familiar writers t
I didn't pick this book out of a hat. Kirk's tome has been praised by figures such as Richard Nixon (according to Ambrose's biography, he read it avidly and used it to shape his own thinking) and William F. Buckley. Just last month, John Kass wrote a column in which he mentioned glancing at his own "dog-eared copy" of it and bemoaning the fact that today's Republicans can't articulate their own conservative principles, thereby guaranteeing Obama another term.

It doesn't take more than ten or twe
Ezra Hood
This is one of the classic doorways into American conservatism. With this tome-- which Kirk intended to title "The Conservative Rout"-- the author provided the philosophical starting-gun that signalled the beginning of the modern American conservative movement. With Buckley, Goldwater, and a few others, Kirk revived Burkean conservatism first in America, and then throughout the West.

It's brilliant writing, and better thinking. Kirk analyzes the writing and thought of prominent (and sometimes not
Jacob Stubbs
So, this book was a great articulation of British and American Southern thought. Kirk does an excellent job showing how conservatism is not necessarily what the "conservative" party thinks today (I'm looking at you, libertarians). He articulates a more "republic" centered governmental view with a great respect for the thoughts of Burke, Cicero, Aristotle, etc.

In addition to that, Kirk does an excellent job chronicling the Ante-Bellum Southern contributions to Conservative thought, as well as th
I am by no means a conservative in the Fox News sense. Nor am I a libertarian in the Ron Paul sense. Neither is Russel Kirk. This was one of those books that put into words many of my political beliefs that I was not otherwise able to express. Kirk sets out a conservatism that I would call "realism". He recognizes that revolutionary "isms" - Marxism, anarchism, fundamentalism, feminism, conservatism, neo-conservatism, liberalism, etc. - do not do justice to the reality of the world and try to im ...more
Steven Pietrykowski

I just really like the premise of this book and that it's a classic in poli sci world intrigued me even more. It's tricky to follow a history of people who are resistant to change, rarely those who seek to oppose change are as remembered those who seek the change. But the vastness of this book especially the breadth of the profiles makes it an astounding read. I have a few quibbles with the discussion of what a conservative is. And there is a desperate need to devote a few chapters to economist
Chris J
This is a tome - 500+ pages of conservative history. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who had a sincere interest in conservative thought. Certainly, it's not for the uncommitted reader. It's a labor, but I found it to be a labor of love. Aww, isn't that nice? I espeically enjoyed the sections on Tocqueville and John Henry Newman, as I did gaining a greater understanding of the conservative reaction towards Positivism, Materialism, etc. I was force fed this theory in gr ...more
Gerhard Konig
520 pages. When I finished I immediately began to re-read it. Am presently 200 pages in. Interested me in Burke, Adams, Jefferson, Randolph, Babbitt, Lecky, Paul Elmer More, Hawthorne, Mill, Bentham, Macaulay...What exactly is democracy and what is meant by equality. Kirk cites 340 books in the bibliography, 58 of which have multiple volumes. I constantly marvel at the intellect required to organize vast amounts of information. Pub. in 1953, when Kirk was 35. I am impressed and motivated to furt ...more
Adam Carman
An excellent overview of conservative thought. In an age when most associate conservatism with the selfish libertarianism of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, Kirk reminds us that true conservatives seek to protect the "permanent things", the traditions of society, and to recognize that the wisdom of humanity is in the aggregate, not the individual. Kirk's unwillingness to confront the issue of slavery weakens him a bit when he includes John Randolph and John Calhoun because of their support for local aut ...more
Truly enjoying this book. The short chapters on individual political thinkers are manageable, and then eventually able to be leveraged into a cohesive picture of what conservatives think. Reading the chapter on John Adams and am quite struck by the obvious statement he made that conservatives do not seek to improve man like progressives do, but to meet him where he is. This thought for Adams, a very pious man, is centered in the fall of man. The belief that man has certain ignoble tendencies tha ...more
Antonio Velazquez
Great book, but for heavy readers. Intellectually high.
Kirk's prose style is archaic and enchanting. His history of ideas, with his thesis of conservatism as a disposition rather than an ideology, is broad and forceful, not easily harnessed or contained by any existing political platforms around in 2008. Perhaps this is why he is still so revered. Especially enjoyable are his investigations of Burke, Newman, Maine, and Eliot.
The most important work for the Conservative movement in America. A wonderful read both in substance and style. Kirk affection for the subject drips from the page. Kirk provides the intellectual foundation for the "social conservative" wing of conservatism. At least read the first chapters (through the one on Burke) and the last one. ...more
Don Lowrance
I was stunned by the writers breath and depth of knowledge covering two centuries of conservative and liberal thought. The style he wrote in made me feel like he was contemporary with and a close friend of all the men he referenced in his work. I will be referencing and revisiting this work for the rest of my life.

Dr Don Lowrance
Randall Hartman
An outstanding, but intellectually challenging, exposition of the basis for western conservative thought. A must-read for understanding what it truly means to be conservative and the key distinctions of that persuasion as compared to the alternative.
I've been preparing for reading Kirk for a long time - suddenly I'm shy.
I'm ready to come to terms with my own conservatism, a conservatism that has nothing to to with the GOP. Hoping to find some resonance here.
I'll let you know how it goes!
For those who thought conservatism was just ignorance/stubborness/conformity/greed, this book was a cold shower. I had never been never been so paradigmatically challenged, and haven't been since.
Muller's anthology of conservative thought (also on this list) is far less biased when it comes to interpretations of religion, moral duties, and personal freedoms. I think Kirk is fairly dogmatic.
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  • Ideas Have Consequences
  • The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945
  • The Quest For Community: A Study In The Ethics Of Order And Freedom (Ics Series In Self Governance)
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  • God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of 'Academic Freedom'
  • The Conscience of a Conservative
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  • The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left
  • A Conflict Of Visions
  • Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays
  • Reflections on the Revolution in France
  • The Tempting of America
  • I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition
  • Meaning Of Conservatism
  • Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature ... America (or at least the Republican Party)
  • What It Means to Be a Libertarian
  • Memoirs of a Superfluous Man
  • The New Science of Politics: An Introduction
For more than forty years, Russell Kirk was in the thick of the intellectual controversies of his time. He is the author of some thirty-two books, hundreds of periodical essays, and many short stories. Both Time and Newsweek have described him as one of America’s leading thinkers, and The New York Times acknowledged the scale of his influence when in 1998 it wrote that Kirk’s 1953 book The Conserv ...more
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“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.” 10 likes
“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.” 6 likes
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