Acton Institute Powerblog

6 quotes: Russell Kirk

October 19 is the birthday of Russell Kirk (1918-1994), whose book The Conservative Mind gave shape and direction to a rebounding transatlantic political and philosophical tradition. Kirk rooted conservatism, not in a political platform, but in a deep-seated respect for tradition, faith, order, morality, and precedent. On his birthday, we proudly share six of the greatest quotations from the Sage of Mecosta:

Economics depends on morality

Sim­i­larly, some peo­ple would like to sep­a­rate eco­nom­ics from morals, but they are un­able to do so. For unless most men and women rec­og­nize some sort of moral prin­ci­ples, an econ­omy can­not func­tion ex­cept in a small and pre­car­i­ous way. Moral be­liefs, some­times called moral val­ues, make pos­si­ble pro­duc­tion, trad­ing, sav­ing, and the whole eco­nomic ap­pa­ra­tus.

Eco­nom­ics: Work and Pros­per­ity. (1989).

The arrogance of trying to transform a society:

Most of us are not really so arrogant as to think we have a right to remould the world in our image. The best we can do, toward redeeming the states of Europe and Asia from the menace of revolution and the distresses of our time, is to realize our own conservative character, suspicious of doctrinaire alteration, respectful toward history, preferring variety over uniformity, acknowledging a moral order composed of human persons, not of mere political and economic atoms subservient to the state. We have not been appointed the correctors of mankind; but, under God, we may be an example to mankind.

A Program for Conservatives. (1954).

The biggest problem facing history:

We ought not to endeavor to revise history according to our latter day notions of what things ought to have been, or upon the theory that the past is simply a reflection of the present.

Academic Freedom: An Essay in Definition. (1955).

Economic ‘equality’ is immoral and a Christian heresy:

Aye, men are created different; and a government which ignores this ineluctable law becomes an unjust government, for it sacrifices nobility to mediocrity; it pulls down the aspiring natures to satisfy the inferior natures. This degradation injures human happiness in two ways. First, it frustrates the natural longings of talented and energetic persons to realize their potentialities; it leaves the better men of its time dissatisfied with themselves and their nation, and they sink into boredom; it impedes any improvement of the moral, intellectual, and material condition, in terms of quality, of mankind. Second, it adversely affects the happiness, late or soon, of the mass of men; for, deprived of responsible leadership and the example of the aspiring natures, the innumerable men and women destined to walk in the ordinary ways of life suffer in the tone of their civilization, and in their material condition. A government which makes a secular dogma of the Christian mystery of moral equality is, in short, hostile to human happiness.

The Best Form of Government.” (1960).

On the U.S. Constitution:

In America, the Federal Constitution has endured as the most sagacious conservative document in political history; the balance of powers and interests still operations, however threatened by recent centralization; and almost no one with a popular following advocates the overthrow of American political establishments.

The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. (1953).

10 conservative principles:

  1. First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.
  2. Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.
  3. Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.
  4. Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.
  5. Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.
  6. Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.
  7. Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.
  8. Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.
  9. Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.
  10. Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciledin a vigorous society.

Adapted from The Politics of Prudence. (1993).

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.