On Saturday, November 9, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute is hosting a conference on the 60th Anniversary of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. The conference, which will examine the impact of Kirk’s monumental book—which both named and shaped the nascent conservative movement in the United States—is to be held at the Eberhard Center on the downtown Grand Rapids campus of Grand Valley State University, which Acton supporters will recognize as the home of Acton University from 2006-2010, and that conference’s precursor, the Acton Symposium in 2005. The ISI conference promises to be a stimulating experience, featuring Gleaves Whitney of Grand Valley’s Hauenstein Center, Professor Bruce Frohnen of Ohio Northern University, and Gerald Russello, editor of the University Bookman, the scholarly quarterly founded in 1960 by Kirk.
That being said, Acton has a connection to Russell Kirk that goes beyond the coincidental sharing of conference space. For one thing, the Acton Institute was blessed to have Kirk serve in an advisory capacity from the founding of the institute up until the time of his death. And it was our honor to host the great man for what would turn out to be his final public lecture.
The lecture took place on Jaunary 10, 1994 at the University Club in Grand Rapids, not far from his home in Mecosta, Michigan. Kirk spoke on the topic of Lord Acton on Revolution, laying out his case that Acton, over the course of his life, developed a tendency to too easily approve of revolution, even sometimes showing an “enthusiastic approbation” of it. Ultimately, Kirk believed that Acton was too enthusiastic about revolution, and he faults Acton for too earnestly supporting the abstract common good that revolution would supposedly advance, while failing to foresee the dangers that revolution could pose to the liberty that Acton so cherished.
For a man who had recently been “under house arrest for the past six weeks under my doctor’s orders, having overexerted myself on the lecture platform,” he speaks with great enthusiasm and energy, and with great clarity of mind. Just over three months later, he passed away at his home in Mecosta, Piety Hill.
It was our privilege to draw from Kirk’s wisdom in our early days as an institution, and it is now our privilege to share this, his final lecture, with you.
More: Acton’s remembrance of Russell Kirk, from Religion and Liberty, Volume 4, Number 3.
Even More: Russell Kirk on “Enlivening the Conservative Mind.”
With an introduction by Dermot Quinn, this essay is based on a lecture given by former Acton Institute Advisory Board member Russell Kirk, explaining Acton's view on the American and French Revolutions.