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The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,426 ratings  ·  121 reviews
The Conservative Mind is considered the cornerstone of the modern conservative movement. Russell Kirk's unparalleled essay is the classic synthesis of American conservative tradition and its English roots. To this day, it makes clear the significance of the word "conservative" and the importance of conservative values. ...more
Hardcover, Seventh Edition, 535 pages
Published September 25th 1986 by Regnery Publishing (first published 1953)
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Jean-françois Virey "The Portable Conservative Reader' is a collection of primary sources, whereas "The Conservative Mind", though it does contains occasionally lengthy q…more"The Portable Conservative Reader' is a collection of primary sources, whereas "The Conservative Mind", though it does contains occasionally lengthy quotes, is mostly Kirk's words. I have ordered the former book as it seems to complement the latter nicely.(less)
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J.A.A. Purves
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, favorites
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
Simon Stegall
Aug 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This may be the most personally impactful book I've ever read. I have never been so challenged by a book, and have never grown so much as a result. By the last page, my understanding of Kirk's topic had increased so much that I wanted to flip the book over and start again, because I knew I would comprehend it so much more. Kirk's encyclopedic knowledge of his topic is incredible.

The Conservative Mind is a chronicle of the great conservative thinkers of history, starting with Edmund Burke and Joh
Joseph Stieb
I decided to read this book because of the recent election to try to get a sharper sense of one strand of . Whatever ideology Trump and his ilk are promulgating (white nationalism? reaction? populism) it is a far cry from Kirk's highly traditional, religiously orthodox, and stuffy conservatism. And before I jump into the book's ideas, let me just issue a warning: this is the stuffiest book I have ever read. If you want to read it, you should have a better reason than I did. This book is not fun ...more
Stephen Hicks
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is no wonder why this work is considered to be one of the cornerstones of conservative literature. Kirk's survey of conservative thought beginning with Edmund Burke and ending with George Santayana is the unfurling of a historical tapestry. Do not be fooled for the conservatism put forth by Kirk is not the colloquial conservatism touted by many politicians today. In fact, few people out there in the public square wave the banner of Burke & Kirk.

The profundity of this book, and its subject ma
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
Ben Batchelder
Oct 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not only is this book an education in itself but it is a pathway to much other learning. It will be a constant reference for me.

I don't think I can add much to the reviews given by my friends Stephen Hicks and Simon Stegall. So please see their Goodreads reviews.
Nov 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeff Miller
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am no much for reading political philosophy, but I am very glad to have read this. One of those books I knew of and wanted to get around to eventually.

This history of conservative thought and those who advanced it is such a good read and so informative. I am rather embarrassed by how little I knew of this history. This book is such a balm considering what passes for conservatism now. We have lost or ignored first principles and think policy decisions is a replacement for it. I was especially g
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosphy
Suprisingly uninformative, erratic, primarily rethorical instead of philosophical.
Some may like it more and I think the most interesting thing about it (aside pieces on Newman and Tocqueville) is to look at this as a history of falilures of conservatism in both theory and practice, as it was, just like this book, mainly rethorical, rejecting any who examine it (and not necessarily the conclusions, but the path by which they are reached).
While they often championed Plato and Aristotle, all prote
Chris J
Aug 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Adam Carman
Oct 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Drew Norwood
This is a monumental book. Russell Kirk has done yeoman’s work in reading, analyzing, and distilling centuries of conservative thought, and he has compiled it in an well-written, accessible manner. You will not find here a systematic treatise on conservativism. Instead, Kirk focuses on several individuals—“conservators of the permanent things”—scattered throughout English and American history. These men carried the conservative cause forward in the midst of different social and political context ...more
Jan Rice
Oct 28, 2019 marked it as here-i-halted-unfinished-so-far  ·  review of another edition
I stopped because of the repeated impression from the first 100+ pages that this book is exhibiting the characteristics and quirks of conservatism rather than explaining it and that the author's main aim is to convert, not teach.

Reading Jerry Z. Muller's introduction in Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought from David Hume to the Present clarified my perceptions.

Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
This is an excellent book. It is a history of conservative thought starting with Burke and continuing up to the 20th century. My purpose was to better understand what I really mean by the word "conservative", and this book provided me not only with a satisfying answer but also with a long list of important philosophers and political writers in the conservative stream of thought whom I can pursue further study with. Perhaps most importantly, I have a clearer understanding than ever how to judge a ...more
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind is a book that displays impressive learning, deep feeling, and splendid literary style. It was first published in 1953, and played a crucial role in establishing the post WWII conservative intellectual movement in America. Of course, the thought currents that comprised the nascent conservative movement were varied; Kirk’s outlook was never more than a shining example of one particular intellectual strand-traditionalism-that went into the mix, and which someti ...more
Apr 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Conservative Mind is something between and synopsis and a Bible of (what the author deems) "conservative" thought and thinkers for the past 2.5 centuries. Beginning with the French Revolution and Edmund Burke's corresponding political and philosophical reaction, the author traces how in both America and the U.K. there have consistently been statesmen, philosophers, writers and academics who have opposed the desire for radical change, blind leveling, secularism and irreverence towards the pas ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The conservative believes in the natural process of evolution to sort out what practices that are useful and create a stable and just society. However true this may be in a stable environment and in a long run sense this cannot be viable in an environment with dynamic change; as has been he case since the beginning of the Colombian Exchange and doubly so since the Industrial Revolution. Governments must change as the power centers change and so, for example, as power shifted from the landed elit ...more
Yuri Zbitnoff
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, philosophy
Growing up in a progressive environment, I developed the requisite contempt for conservatism that accompanies the standard leftist political worldview. If you’re a progressive, you will regard conservative ideology as the province of regressive dullards who desperately cling to religious nostrums, rigid notions of the Constitution, and nationalistic sloganeering. This contempt for conservatism has been the hallmark of progressive and liberal reformers since the dawn of the modern democratic age. ...more
Eric Chevlen
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, history

Ambrose Bierce mordantly defined a Conservative as "a statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others." Russell Kirk would not fully subscribe to that definition, but I doubt that he would dismiss it entirely.

In his introduction to his masterful magnum opus, Russell Kirk, although reluctant to cage conservatism within a strict definition—that itself would defy conservative principles—outlines what he called six canons of con
Brandon Brown
Jul 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful exposition of conservative thought.

Never did I know what the word "conservative" truly meant until reading this book. Far from the petty and plutocratic meaning it denotes in The United States today, conservatism is more a mood or inclination than it is a philosophy. It is the recognition of God, natural differences, and a hearkening to the received wisdom of our ancestors. I'm grateful for this book.
Andy Dollahite
Listened to this on my commute. Kirk systematically narrates the major threads of conservative thought and philosophy from Burke to Eliot. I especially enjoyed the sections on Burke, JQ Adams, and Disraeli. Of course one is digesting everything like a baby bird, no replacement for examining the primary sources oneself. There is hardly a word concerning economic theory in case that’s of interest.
Jacques Defraigne
Nov 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The conservative mind is a must-read classic. One of the few books in conservative thought that combines the British and the American conservative tradition. It never overgeneralize each particular tradition and is able to combine historical events and tradition with the timeless principles of the conservative. In the true sense it is universal and particular. I would advise everyone to read this book.
Aaron Ventura
Dec 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incisive. Eminently quotable. Prophetic. This is a long and valuable history of conservative thought. Highly recommend!
Kyle Grindberg
Good, though I wish he gave even a little biographical information on the people covered.
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
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is perhaps the only essential book for conservative thinkers to read. The scope of what Kirk has done here is astounding, frankly, and he did more to turn Conservationism from a hodgepodge of unrelated theories to a intellectually coherent way of looking at the world, solidly based on some of the great thinkers of the past. Kirk is astoundingly well-read. Just off-the-cuff, he gives those of us that are mere mortals a reading list to last over a lifetime.

I'd recommend this to anyone that's
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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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133 likes · 31 comments
“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.”
“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.” 16 likes
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