tv Conservative Thinkers of the 20th Century CSPAN May 8, 2016 6:30pm-7:44pm EDT
but unfortunately, violence we have isis now. announcer: tonight at 8 eastern "q&a.span's ". >> next, a panel of scholars discusses influential thinkers century, including russell .s. eliot, kirk. it was in grand rapids michigan, and it's about an hour. host: we'll move forward in time now to the mid-20th century with a look at some of that era's influential conservative hinkers as illuminated by the scholarship of ben latford, bradley berbinger and lisa zefil. i use the word influential on purpose. he trajectory of post-war conservativeism was in many ways
the cted and formed by panel discussion this morning. we believe this uniting theme on tions, hree presenta elements of common ground thinking will be apparent due to heir complex and deeply informed philosophies. en latford is a professor of english at ben valley state university, the past president of the t.s. eliot society and the editor of the t.s. eliot and christian tradition, ben will be discussing elliott's mid-20th ions to the century tradition. the chair at is hills vail college and is the cofounder of the imaginative conservative. his scholarship and imagination ave allowed him to publish diverse topics such as christopher dawson, james tolking's "middle earth." today, his subject is russell kirk, in many ways, the
barrier of post-war conservativeism. lisa zeffil is associate professor of history at pacific university. her scholarship focuses on the role of culture in the overnment and american values as well as social and political morrays. discussing thebe subject of her current project, a biography about peter viereck, the pullitser prize-winning poet the term new conservatism. please join me in welcoming them. [applause] ben: late in life, t.s. eliot delivered an address entitled the literature of politics, to the london conservative union. it begins with what i take to be mostly a statement of sincere humility. i am merely a man of letters, he says, who believes that the
questions he raises may sometimes be of interest. even if the answers he can give are negligible. i have man of letters, never taken any part in politics other than that of a voter, a walking on part, and that of a part.r, a sitting down this is not merely, i think, a disarm a disclaimer to critical audience. liot had written much about political topics at that time. but from a philosophical difference. he is touched mostly in passing on the issues of the day while ttempting to set out fundamental ideas that might serve beyond the moment. in this talk, he names as classics of conservative literature, the writings of burke, coleridge, and israeli. coleridge, he says, was rather a man of my own type, differing from myself chiefly in being
immensely more learned, more industrious, and endowed with a mind owerful and subtle and i think he's sincere about that too. plus, he identifies with the political ote about philosophy but never attempted to enter the arena of practical politics. in this talk, he also mentions n article he had read recently on american political philosophy without naming the author. know that he was referring to russell kirk, who more become somewhat involved in the political fray held liot, but had never public office except that as of justice of the peace in the county. eliot ends his brief talk by emphasizing that there should writers a few penetrated to the core of the matter in trying to arrive at set it forth to without too much hope, without ambition to alter the immediate course of affairs. and without being downcast or defeated when nothing appears to
ensue. he terms this realm of thought pre-political, naming as xemplars christopher dawson in england and ryan holt neebler in america. pre-political thinking began, he says, with the what is al question, man? throughout his career, eliot attempted to do this type of philosophical political thinking, rather than trying to ffer solutions to immediate issues. as a student at harvard, eliot came under the influence of some of the leading conservative hinkers of that time, irving babbot, paul elmermore, and also santiana. of the three, babbot had much he greatest influence on eliot's thinking. identified , babbot the romantic era as the time when western thought went off
the rails. he blames it in particular, the to the on, that led modern malends. babbot made a distinction between the humanitarian and the humanist. the humanitarian, he said, is a sentimentalist, one who felt for humanity at large and wanted to for everyone.er the humanitarian also subscribed naturalistic dogma, which held that all it takes to mprove peoples' lives is an improvement in their material conditions, make sure that they have food, shelter and so on, will be happy. babbot and moore called themselves new humanists, and they argued that the humanitarian approach ignored the spiritual dimension of human be , which could not satisfied by material commodities alone. hus the utopian schemes of ruso's humanitarian were to fail. liot had the humanitarian
utopian scheme in mind when he later writes, they constantly tried escape from the within, by side and dreaming of systems so perfect to be one will have good. if the humanitarians have their way, virtue will be assumed or will be irrelevant. the systems that provide everyone with necessities will obviate any need for virtuous behavior. babbot's battle against these umanitarians was one eliot carried on lifelong. after completing his degree at harvard, eliot spent the school year in 1910-11 in paris, and in hat year, he became better acquainted with a french political thinker he is read in babbot's course, moras. fighting a rear guard action against romanticism and returnion, arguing for a to traditional authorities of monarchy and catholicism. any years later, eliot was
echoing a statement made by moras when he declared himself a literature, a t royalist in politics and an anglo-catholic in religion. however, eliot later regretted that moras had not confined imself to political philosophy but had led a political movement, which became reactionary and antisemitic. distanced himself from aligned with another french philosophy, jacques niatan. in the 1930s, the two found themselves offering similar analysises of cultural and political questions. religion not be pushed out of and treated asre a purely private matter, he also rgues that the church's influence should not be coercive, but should operate to people's l consciouses. return -- this is
some background in eliot's -- the trajectory of his political thinking. 'm going to turn now to the person who had the biggest nfluence on his political thought, christopher dawson. envision the possibility of bringing the religious and civil spheres into dynamic complementarity with each other. as he worked on this cultural theory, eliot found support in writings. russell kirk declares that of social thinkers in his own time, none influenced eliot more than dawson. christopher dawson was born in 1889, just a year after eliot. he wrote some 20 books and came to be regarded as one of the leading historians of his time. in a book that gives an excellent overview of dawson's berzer, work, bradley
who is this bradley birzer that everyone ing up where turns. an editorial college in life magazine in 1959 praised dawson's ideas. he went so far as to order a copy of the latest book for the auditors at that time. his gives an idea of how prominent the british historian was by that time. of culturalwo books criticism, he acknowledged the importance of dawson's work to ideas.n not surprisingly, given these acknowledgments, eliot's these major works of cultural criticism is indeed very close to dawson's, and you noticed thaty have we highly paid scholars, specialized in proving the obvious. the central idea of all of was the writing intregal relation between culture and relation. emphasized that his doubt that a completely secular culture could even noting that the
intellectual class has replaced the priesthood, he maintains has been substitution a failure. his words. for the intellectuals who have succeeded the priests as the guardians of the higher culture, of western have been strong only in their negative work of criticism and disintegration. they have failed to provide an integrated system of principles and values, which could unify a modern society. nd consequently, they have proved unable to resist the onmoral, inhuman, and irrational forces that are destroying the humanist as well s the christian traditions of western culture. the integral relation between religion and culture is the main eliot's books on the subject too. or ulture has appeared developed except together with their religion, he says. say that a ar as to
culture is essentially the incarnation, so to speak, of the a people.f eliot concludes, i do not elieve that the culture of europe could survive the complete disappearance of the christian faith. convinced of that not merely because i am a christian, of social udent biology. if christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. then you must start painfully put on a you cannot new culture ready-made. ne problem both eliot and dawson saw with the increasingly secularized culture of europe itself offncy to cut from the past. the progressive dogma that arose in the enlightenment and was strengthened by the scientific 19th century the tends to regard all early thought as superstition and nonsense. the religious mentality, on the other hand, regards the traditions of the past as prime
sources of wisdom. awson quotes edmund burke as saying society is not an artificial construct, but a spiritual community, a artnership in all science, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. as the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. eliot uses very similar words when speaking of the central role of the family in society. he says, but when i speak of the i have in mind a bond which embraces a longer period of time than this. a piety towards the dead, obscure, a solisitude to the unborn, however remote. sense itself tends to be lost in the shift from a traditional to culture.ve idea of both eliot and dawson argued that every culture will have
that asues conservatives we must promote the principle of proliferating friday. this is a full 10 years before the council. kirk is sounding very catholic. when he writes this. this is a news revelation of the face of god. attributed toally the conservatives of that era. today, more than anyone else we were fearing this conformity. it is very strong. number three, kirk did not there was such thing as
a left and a right. he believes that this was a ruse. there was no such thing as left right wing. they used this as a way to confuse our own dialogue. this is yet another stupid -- -- kirk believed very strongly that the only way you could to find a person properly was not by the left-write book by up-down. do you believe in the degradation of man or do believe that he can reach a glorified state? it was always this idea of god, anti-god. the division was not horizontal. .t was always vertical
you know what i mean. [laughter] that is the division. vertical and horizontal. number four, kirk believe very strongly that the highest thing that a government could attain an kirk is nothing if not in augustinian. so we should cherish it. theme ofs the highest government. kurt believes that governments that those remain with him.
fear of what the new state could be. totalitarianave a streak. i have this all-encompassing streak. governments when they behave properly did at least secure justice. if you remember from city of god, they are nothing but robberies. they can still lay credit -- kurt had the very same view. at best, a government can secure justice. that was a critical point as well. under the rubric of justice, then we could have national law. importantst and most to secure justice. that was the government's sole job.
justice is the main job of government. number five, that every generation must in some way promote prudence. he takes this from the ancient virtues. and the way kirk meant prudence, it harkens back to a much older form of prudence. we must always be able to judge good from evil. we must be able to identify it. we do not love what should be loved. he certainly believed in that. he believes that hatred of the right things.
ofshould hate the abuse human rights. this was an element of justice. that we could identify these things. discernthe ability to good from evil. tanks has all the way back. he takes it to the ancient anglo-saxons as well. he is thinking about their use of common law. things such as a trial by jury. the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. kirk's argument was was when we inherit these flaws, we have to decide every generation what to do with them. inheritance, what they have given us is this good, is
the spat, is this both good and bad? do we take the thing and pass it on? do we perform it? every generation's duty and they are huge indications in this. kurt is not the government as the creator of laws. law and legislature it exist not to create laws but to ratify laws. every generation has to make that determination. court, we must decide what we inherit. this is my final point.
worldrk, in the modern there was nothing deadlier then progressivism. actas the ultimate inhumane and there are reasons he argues this. why is it that progressivism is so dangerous? kirk's inherent conservatism and fallenr that man as a being will never be able to embrace perfectly what should be perfected, what should be given to god. that is, if we were to understand hit stream profitably , you believe that history itself was not merely a moment by moment kind of
explanation of what's going on. it is not nearly one event after another. is not this thing that moved towards something else. history was instead for kirk deeply rooted in the ancient and medieval tradition. it was a large expanse of time. he thought we could progress technology. of great moments technological jobs were usually those moments in history where we had been loosed from the morality. moment where we do have an absolute explosion.
all of these things come forward. we have to be very careful. let me end with this. i will end with kirk in his diary. he takes this quite personally that the united states has not developed this technology. this was the height of progressivism. it meant the degradation of some other person in the name of the glory. this doctrine of progress is the most interesting of blind and foolish confidence that americans have ever had. none of the progressives in history, not just of smith, not john dewey knows what this is
towards. they don't know what direction it will take. all progress has been towards annihilation. and ends that we have just accomplished and perhaps will go further with the new and improved atomic bomb. we hold the tools of destruction. it well peoples before have used it heinously. for kirk, that is progressivism. [applause] >> for -- hello everyone, i have been working on a multigenerational book project
that is taken me many years. in researching this product i came across this controversy. a 25 page chapter grew into a 99 page chapter. book.ded to write a's all the book is called think or died. that is what i am going to talk about today. when we are done, i look forward to a lively conversation. in 1949, the poet was in a really odd position. award just been given an for the highest achievement in poetry. it was the highest prize at that time.
he happened to be in an insane asylum for treason for his anti-democracy speeches over the radio in italy. agencye one government who want to honor him as a great poet. then you have another government agency who wanted to hang him for treason. sparked one of the worst literary conferences -- controversies in history. it reflected cultural alignments that were in flux. both conservatives and liberals were prompted to reconsider their presumptions in order to avoid the catastrophes they had witnessed.
spanned the political spectrum. looking at this controversy revealed a lot about the shifting values and politics and art that marked the end of world war ii's victory culture and the beginning of cold work culture. interest to today for finding common ground. he moved there in 1923 to live the life of the mind. it was also very inexpensive to live there. after america entered world war i, he went on the radio twice a week to give these lectures. what he talked about was gentile
tomfoolery and sbr sailors. -- fdr failures. what on earth was this guy thinking? he was a poet after all. doing wasought he was an invaluable service to the american public. they had a different take on what he was doing. treason incted for 1943. the reason why he moved from poetry to politics was to events. the first was the great war. he had many friends when he was living in london who died. he was very upset about this. the second event was the great depression of the 1930's. it reminded him of when he was a child in america when there was another economic collapse.
it brought back a lot of bad memories for him. he decided he would apply his fears intellect to politics and economics. that ane convinced international experience -- coalition created wars to make themselves rich. in 1943 as american troops were the boat ofelves of italy, he was arrested and taken to the attention training center. cage, hept in a steel was subject to the sun during the day. he was under a suicide watch. while he was there he managed to this.
he sometimes had access to a typewriter. he eventually suffered a collapse because of the physical strain that he was under. now when he is brought back to the united states containing -- stanford treason. he did not receive a very welcoming reception. should as your pound be shot? america should have known better. thes are supposed to be tenets of civilization. they shut he should be punished even more than a non-poet.
they argued that he was insane. this caused a mental collapse. he shouldn't stand tribal. >> there was no evidence of emotional instability. directedess he was towards the hospital for the insane. there is a nice irony there. [laughter] three years later, they published this. indeed, some people called the
radio talks the poor man's canto. a allen pose long long poem. here you get an idea of anti-somatic versus. the collection also contains 17 toguages whose references various languages. like the fair amount of modernist literature, it was tough going. what can be made of the canada 72? what is going on here? however, it did contain some of
those beautiful lines ever contained. part ofthe most famous the kansas. beauty is difficult. then he has a painting towards humility. assessment is said that it isn't sterile or ugly. it is childish to a degree. despite the claims otherwise. it imposes fascist rhetoric. you're probably thinking right now, why on earth would anyone give him a government-sponsored award for this collection. if decision becomes clearer you see it as part of a multiyear effort by a small -- the government
everywhere as the early 20th , --y, in literary modernism so once the award was announced, the literary community quickly divided into two camps. i will talk about who supported him. 1930's, they are no idea how to analyze a work of literature. it was memorization. writers themselves worry losing and abusing literature for political ends.
literature is a value all on its own. trials proved an embarrassment littered sure -- partisans. he joined others in the retreat from politics. he became part of the academy. this is a glossary of the criticism. understanding poetry to be the main text book read in college. they didn't like the traditional literature. inside on ryan, meter and celebrated paradox. they didn't care what a poet meant to say. selfto them was a referential.
they also didn't care if someone was offended by a poem. had to be steeped in the whole literary tradition. modernist writers appreciated the new critics because they emphasized close readings. this cartoon captures that. this is really helpful for the kansas. now, it didn't matter what he said. anti-semitic poems. so what, upon does not mean anything. a poem should be. they have no impact.
when they return from the work, then using the new critics methodology, you did not have to take a class in history. we did not know have you about readingh england to poetry in concentration camps, it was really hard to make the lame that poetry somehow ennobled readers. with the --ue objective approach. the federal government recruited morally compromised german expert arguing that the politics did not matter.
for example, werner von braun was a brilliant rocket scientists. , he got aare debating job heading up the research at the university of arkansas fayetteville. so his ammunition to sink or died. this is something he said repeatedly in his radio broadcast really resonated with -- saying that public professionals were advocating. iny were convinced that order to democracy, they develop critical thinking skills. they are to strive for originality.
reading between the lines became a best practice. let's turn to the second group. this is a really odd alignment. the new critics were mostly southern and conservative and sometimes anti-somatic. the intellectuals were liberal and many of them were jewish. they came together for several reasons. both groups cared deeply about the freedom of the imagination. people like dwight mcdonald wrote about the freedom of the imagination in magazines.
lionel published the imagination. to meet the challenges, democratic liberalism needed to be stronger and better address complexity. humans are complex. they have a moral awfully nation to be intelligent. conservative is the sort of spiritual quest after freedom. he defined the free play of the imagination. it is called anxiety the official a motion of our time.
he won the pulitzer prize for his book the age of anxiety. and this cartoon captures the boat for existentialism. the use gender coded language. as we all know, senator mccarthy clubs his enemies by saying they were soft on communism. to protect america against the cold war, we had to be tough minded. there is this evidence on masculinity. what they were doing then, they were doing with the 80th congress was doing. coming together in the face of a
common enemy. in order to uphold american values. let me go a little bit more quickly. to the love intellectuals. cia not only engaged in a cultural war. they stood for high culture. divide other side of the standing against the award was a man named robert. sayinge two articles that the library of congress was the property of the american people.
standing in the middle is peter. he wrote good reviews of it and his dissertation from harvard was about the romantics for hitler. , this bookd was what contains a lot of beautiful poetry but it is ugly. award,t to give it an don't give it a government award. under the auspices. he tried to hold attention opposite. shame in glory of the intellectuals.
she was a little bit quicker to the take. she supported brown versus board of education. out against mccarthy. his timeline for involving was a lot faster. peter would love some of the initiatives today. one of them is this the lands of the study that says both republicans and democrats tend to equally value justice in caring for the vulnerable. instead of castigating the other side saying they don't care about anyone. this is one more study by the brookings institute.
it's a working group on poverty. whenever dexcom -- democrats talk about poverty, they say these rings. let's bring them together. my final note of appreciation is this movement among conservatives about birkenstocks. know that heay wrote some of the most beautiful speeches. thelso wrote that acceptance speech that sarah palin gave when he she was given the vice president nomination. i would recommend dominion. it is one of the most moving books.
he won its take the best of both but it didn't cost him personally. hopefully we will get into some of that. thank you. [applause] if you have any questions, please come up to the microphone. class i have a question. i had a question for brad. first of all, it is good to see you. i was interested in the distinction you made from the
cannon and the decrees. i wanted to talk a little bit about that. it is a shell game that he is playing. the canon seems very acceptable. the cannon hits the road. it only lasted for two years in your meeting. maybe that is not actually voluble -- valuable. aboutis a way to talk these very large principles that do not have much meaning when you come to the actual thing of trying to get angst on in politics and society. i will jump in. to add to this. when of the critical figures -- one of the critical figures was .lbert nock
it was really around his , they've a lot of claim to being the first conservative. he was a critical figure. you've a lot of people trying to claim the mantle of him. laura ingalls wilder was the writer of the little house books. william f tapley. a lot of them are all trying to claim the mantle. there is a split between frank meyer and kirk over who has the real mantle. in many ways is. to whittaker chambers. i do think that your question is
well taken. any young conservative or republican that pulls up the mind is going to be sorely disappointed. there is nothing in the conservative mind that will lead us to understand anything about kirk politics other than to understand the larger ideas. i don't think that kirk's conservatism government to be political. people asked why is the conservative mind not more political? he was happy they asked that. playful.be very he had two things that he said all the time. the professor always plays the fool in politics. used to quote george gibson that that would goe into politics were the quarterly educated.
he clearly had that view that conservatism was more of a movement of arts and literature than it was of politics. >> he believed the same thing. when this conversation was over. he retreated and became professor. it is my almost modern. he said, might impact is going to be this. these people that we have all been talking about are not architects. they are thinkers and intellectuals. >> this piggybacks on the question. could you make an argument that he is the godfather of today it feels that
conservatives are going back to principles. that, it comes to question the whole notion of compromise as being ugly. in some ways is an anti-politics fueling contemporary conservatism? >> i will quickly answer that. for kirk, politics words always expansionist. it was always the kind of spirit that would take over other spheres. that they were
would mention a title by christopher johnson. the title implies that politics will solve all of our problems. .e have to create a culture it is a way of life that is already there. i think that goes back to paul's question. what you do? he was challenged by many reviewers to come up with the program. and hee a second book said there was no program. >> thank you very much. [applause]
[captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> with american history tv, it gives you that perspective. >> up next, johns hopkins university history professor francois fursenberg talks about five aristocrats that fled the french revolution in the early 1790's and settled in philadelphia. their influence and the relationships these men formed with political figures of the