One hundred years ago this week, the founder of modern American conservatism was born into poverty in Plymouth, Mich. Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind,” published in 1953, laid the foundations of a modern conservative movement that dominated the second half of the American Century. But 65 years later, Kirk’s classic work reads instead as a damning indictment against the very movement he helped launch.
The central thesis of Kirk’s philosophy was that “the conservative abhors all forms of ideology” and subscribes to principles “arrived at by convention and compromise” instead of “fanatic ideological dogmata.” Six decades of Republican overreach and corrosive causes have instead led to the rise of Donald Trump and a foreign policy run by John Bolton, an economy guided by Larry Kudlow and a legal team led by conspiracy theorist Joseph DiGenova.
In the forward to the seventh edition of “The Conservative Mind,” Kirk predicted with precision the rise of political players such as Bolton and Trump and foresaw a time when the United States would “fall into the hands of merciless ideologues or squalid oligarchs.” He also repeated Swedish philosopher Tage Lindbom’s warning of the bleak harvest coming from a “secularized generation for which material existence is everything and spiritual life is nothing.”
This was the predictable outcome of my Republican Party aligning its interests with the most cynical political operators of our time. The Atwaters, Manaforts, Gingriches and Roves leveraged a weaponized media culture that reduced politics to a secularized religion and consolidated political power and material wealth in the hands of its richest donors.