tv Russell Kirk CSPAN November 5, 2016 9:00am-9:31am EDT
so the books and no money at the very interested in the ideas here but a very esoteric. he ended up getting a full scholarship to michigan state and he could have gone anywhere but he went to michigan state, graduated in 1940, got a masters and then a fairly new university and was drafted into the military for five years and didn't get out until 1946. then he got scotland and wrote the conservative mind and a reputation as i said a few moments ago that's when it exploded from the conservative mind which was just a dissertation to think about.
from that point forward from 1953 until his death in 54, he was regarded as the touchstone for the modern conservatism up to the goldwater movement and once the movement in 64 this old days could -- fizzled it went down and that isn't where he was in 196a 1962 but had a good run. >> what were some of the ideas that were revolutionary? i think it's important to put in the context of the times he is deeply worried about the fascism and nationalism into communism and all of these ideologies. he believed in the american
character there was a sense that was given to us through people like george washington and john adams that our job was not to make the world a new box to preserve the best and he thought the founders being very classically educated were giving us something so he didn't think of america against hitler or stalin. he thought of america as something separate that was above stalin and hitler but it was our duty to take these guys out as well as possible. they were good ideologies and the dehumanizing and it was too complicated for that so the conservative mind is truly bad.
he wants to conserve what has come before. in 1953 it was pretty revolutionary. he wasn't catholic at this point. he would become catholic leader on. but he talked about the dignity of the human person and a lot about personalism, ideas of community at times when those were not popular words in america. he's although us as more than equal. it was properly understood that it trump trumped all of the lefd right. >> worthy ideas accessible? >> again this is lost to us now but this was a household name in the 50s and not just here but
all. one of my favorite stories is in august of 1953 p. went over to england to beat t.s. eliot and elliott was performing one of his plays for the first time since he was at a bed and breakfast and they asked him are you the author of the conservative mind and he was absolutely flabbergasted that anyone would know him like that and it turned out that the owner had just gotten a "time" magazine issue where the entire section was dedicated to his book. he was being interviewed on the radio throughout all of the 1950s. plus he had a regularly
syndicated column in the 60s and 70s and people knew him from that as well. he also wrote short stories and a lot of people that know his stories, stephen king writes about him actually, that h but d no idea that he is also in the conservative mind and vice ver versa. >> for his stories good sellers? >> the world bear appeared as yu could expect and not any kind of gentle way that he called them rather gothic. it's not accidental that the publisher actually published kirk's early fictions so these are anti-daemonic, they are black masses and very involved
in the way stephen king would be today. >> we are talking with bradley birzer professor of history and we are talking up at the buck "russell kirk: american conservative." >> 1951 from buckley. >> was there a connection between the bucs? >> it was an interesting year for conservatism. when the great social philosophers the same age as kirk published the quest for community starting in 1953 when it was published, other books came out, fahrenheit 451,
another great science fiction novelist wrote the demolished man. i think kirk's was most important because it was accessible to all kinds of people but there was a lot going on in 53. it was a kind of miraculous year and it made conservatism respectable in a way that it hadn't been for generations. up to that point it had been liberalism and as either conservative or radical until you have people like buckley two years later so all of that was happening at once. the science of politics and 52 and lee strauss in 1953 so it was an incredible year in all kinds of ways. >> was the conservative movement
and actual movement at that time? >> that is a great question. if it was a movement it was one of the most decentralized movements. it wouldn't be until the goldwater movement and the campaign of 64. it wasn't until goldwater unified at all. kirk thinks intellectually but he didn't have the charisma to pull together an organization with a talent with the skill s set. he was terrible and knew that as well. he was purely an academic, with it goldwater had been a businessman and there was something about him he was able
to pull things together, libertarians, conservatives so if there was movement it took about five or six years to coalesce just kind of odd it starts off as an anti-political movement but then quickly it becomes politicized. >> william f. buckley, friends or competitors? >> even though he's catholic so he could never totally be blue blood it was as much as possible, ivy league educated, he was the antithesis coming out of poverty and not catholic as provost and spiritualized, and all of the form of protestanti
protestantism. had never traveled to the east and had no connection to publishers whereas the buckley's coming out of texas and connections with the kennedys. at the catholic thing held them down to a certain extent but because of his personality and demeanor he was able to overcome that. this is interesting, buckley knew he had to have kirk at the national review so he went out in the 1950s and i may not be remembering this right, i think it was 1955 but they met at a bar not too far from his house and it was there that they formulated with the national review would be. kirk didn't want to be on the masthead and this seems esoteric now that a number of the people that he had recruited for
communists and kirk didn't trust ex- communists and didn't want to be associated with them at all, james burnham, frank meyer, a member of people that had been american bolsheviks. he was okay with buckley doing this but he didn't want his name associated. even now the associate buckley and kirk together. >> you describe him as a fabulist, a stoic. >> i would keep all of those things. he didn't like modern technology. he hated the phone, he would curse it. he didn't like answering it when it rang. for him it was an abominable creation, jokingly i assume.
he had no problem carrying his typewriter and at what point do we say this is technology, business and -- everywhere he went you type 120 words a minute i had the privilege of going through the letters and meeting maybe one out of a thousand has a typo. there were certain technologies he loved to hate an love to hatt he accepted. stoicism comes out of greece, so it is the time. go between the fall of greece and the rise of the roman republic that argue argue that e world is pretty much held and you have to accept pain and suffering. they are weird stories, very
famous stories he fell into a river once when he was canoeing and he allowed himself to sink to the bottom. it was his time and it didn't bother him at all. all his life he seemed to have no fear of death and that was a very stoic attitude. there was something inherent in the personality. he could get very hot blooded at times but generally calm, didn't show a lot of emotion. it came out in his writing but not personality. >> is a fabulist? >> guest: that i >> guest: that is his science fiction side. we have to keep this in perspective throughout the 30s and 40s science-fiction is regarded as something above trash or pornography because of where you would buy it was sold
by small publishers and magazine format. you would books that were jeered towards teenagers. even with cs lewis, the great christian apologist of the 20th century he had lost a lot of people that thought he was flirting with satanism and others thought that it was lowbrow and tacky. but he had no problem with that and a lot of these figures that were becoming respectable but science-fiction is marginal he was actually writing a step worse than science-fiction at the time so he would have seen it as no different than mark
twain but for a lot of people when they thought science fiction they didn't think mark twain or chesterton. they thought something you might find at the back part of the drugstore. a lot of conservatives like bradberry because at that time they wouldn't have made it in mainstream media so they had to gdo with second and third rate publishers. by the 60s then science-fiction had taken off. imagine going into a barnes and noble with a huge science-fiction section that wouldn't have been his childhood for example. >> you would think he hated the
technology or at least he said so but he didn't have a car though he had no problem with the train or flying that he always made students drive him to the airport even when he taught here at hillsdale they would have to drive him back. it was about two and a half hours, so that is five hours to come down and go back up plus the student would have to go back so that even more than that. a huge part of his income came from colleges and speaking so he was gone most half the year he would be traveling every year until his health was bad. he had a number of positions that he would normally do them a semester. places like the university of chicago offered him three times professorship that over and over he said no.
>> if one says they are a kirkian what does that mean? >> i don't think that is a proper title. he was a conformist and that is something we forget about conservatism but when it arose in the 50s, it was against conformity in the suburban culture. a deeply conservative man. his politics and views on things. in the 1950s, most conservatives were worried about this especially american males and teenagers. kirk certainly comes out of the
tradition. but he uses the term individualism and it was a radical anti-conformist understanding so there was a lot of that tradition and i think that he very much in braces that through the end of his life. we don't talk about his personality much but he carried a sword stick he could yield if he needed to and he was good at carrying a revolver with him and he always wore a three-piece it didn't matter what the weather was. he thought this is what i should do. he was a bizarre figure in that sense but definitely not in any way shape or form fitting into the american mold at the time. >> and as you say, kirk would've never measure up to the stereotypes of conservatives.
>> guest: i don't think so. most would kind of find out while what should the defense be an education policy or tax policy and that goes back to your other question. i don't think that he would want there to be kirkian. the understanding which is a deeply humane understanding is that you should be peter and the best that god or nature means for you to become and my job as a teacher or friend or professor or father, whatever it is, my job is to bring that unique gift you bring to the world. it's not to conform you. so he wants people to be fully themselves. that's what i think fits into that conservatism of the 50s that was beautifully and you can't imagine bradberry wanting anyone to be like him. buckley didn't want people to be like him, he wanted them to be
feared, eccentric, unusable -- unusual. >> what would the reaction be to you think? >> guest: you are going to get me in trouble for this question. there's a lot of people in the media that he would find. he loved people like the great socialist and in part because they traveled together and would have debates that he would be more of a debate and dav and tht
to colleges in half an hour or two hour discussion and talk about ideas and the idea that we could decide something in a moment or in the spot before we get to the commercial. and of course we just lost even though he was loud as part of the personality no matter how crazy he can be think about how he had the panel he had two on the left, two on the right but they had an hour to talk and debate could be fun and playful with one another there was that animosity and it's hard to imagine. i love george will and when i saw him on the o'reilly factor years ago and they went after each other it was just as heartening to see.
that's the kind of thing he was trying so hard to fight against. we could start a of the first principles and anyone can bash a person. that's the hard thing. part of that he was a gentleman but it was in his nature i think to pull the best out of someone. >> was he an isolationist type? >> guest: key dividend think world war ii for example was an unjust war. he thought it was a good more. when you look back on it, he
thought there were possibilities for non- fees could have been defeated and i am not qualified in that. my instinct is that doesn't sound right but he became weary of any warfare. better isn't the right word but he became very distraught because he needs with reagan had done by building up the army was perfectly fine but you can build up an army so you don't use it and that is the point of having a military, nobody messes with you. when bush used the army to go into iraq, kirk had misgivings about that and spent the last three years of his life arguing that the republicans were going to -- this was a fiasco that would take a generation to get out of and he thought it was extremely anti-reagan and conservative what bush was doing in iraq. >> host: so what is his lasting impact today?
>> guest: one of the things i try to bring up in the book and i debated about whether to put this at the beginning or the end, i think he's one of those figures that will either be remembered fully or totally forgotten. there is no in between and part of that is because we believe that remember him for preserving great things or we will forget him and look at the people he preserved and msn site think secret be fine with that if he merely played the role of making us remember burke. he would be fine with that and this is an element i ended the book with. i thought if i started with this no one would take it seriously. i've never in my life encountered in any person, and i never met him physically so i didn't know him as a person, an and i knew his daughters but i
didn't know kirk. i never encountered someone outside of a mother teresa or john paul to that was more charitable in his life and that hits me as i was reading. i always suspected -- but when i started going through the papers coming and remember growing up in poverty money never meant anything to him. my grandparents growing up also in poverty and flipping through the depression money was almost sacred. kirk didn't see it that way. it wasn't the end in and of itself.
but they gave it to everybody. it didn't matter. saying i love your book we are not begging t begging they beggt of the situation and he put money sending them off to them never to be expecting any of it back. he wasn't a good financial manager but he also had given almost everything away. but at the same time they were also helping anybody. he is here strictly because kirk
paid for his family to get out and they had nowhere to live. there were times that he had up for the eight team and anybody that needed shelter they could live with them as long as they needed. that's extraordinary to think about so if you ask me what is the greatest legacy that is charity living this out. >> bradley birzer the chair until steel college. >> guest: it wasn't russell kirk. it was out of colorado.