Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rising Tide of Kirk Scholarship

A Project of Liberty Fund
A Kirkian Renaissance


No other major figure in 20th century American social and political life has deserved study more than Russell Amos Kirk (1918-1994). The existing studies of Kirk are excellent, but the latest effort, by Professor Brad Birzer, surpasses all previous attempts to appreciate the magnitude of Kirk’s personal mission and scholarly opus. Birzer has a command of the primary sources that is truly amazing, and his archival labors evince the work of a superior scholar and world-class historian. In other words, a significant advance in scholarly knowledge is upon us, as well as an advance in evaluating Kirk as a political thinker.[1]
Before I turn to Birzer’s 2015 book (which was reviewed for Law and Liberty by Mark Pulliam), let me discuss the previous works, both their virtues and their limitations.
The first sustained study of Kirk to appear was James E. Person, Jr.’s highly accessible and readable introduction to the life and works of the Duke of Mecosta, Russell Kirk: A Critical Biography of a Conservative Mind. Person provides a coherent and convincing analysis of Kirk’s enduring significance to American politics and humane learning. Originally published in 1999, and reprinted in 2016, the volume has not been revised, although it remains an excellent contribution to scholarship. Person’s mission is to introduce a new generation of readers to “one of the greatest minds this nation has produced during the twentieth century.”
The book is organized in four sections that outline Kirk’s achievement. The first section is devoted to interpreting Kirk’s background, use of historical consciousness, views on education, and constitutionalism. The second section critiques Kirk’s devotion to the importance of literature and social criticism. The last two sections survey Kirk’s economic thought and his lasting importance as a political thinker. The greatest contribution of this worthwhile volume can be found in the author’s review of Kirk’s defense of a social order grounded in justice and the diffusion of political power.
Person’s biography is written for the general reader, with the intent to elucidate the life and work of Kirk, while avoiding the arcane scholarly controversies and personages that often dominate such academic efforts. In a similar vein, John M. Pafford’s Russell Kirk, a volume in Bloomsbury’s “Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers,” published in 2013, provides a clear and sympathetic account of Kirk’s continued importance as a political thinker.
As the first purely academic treatise on Kirk to appear in this revival, my late friend Wesley McDonald’s book on Kirk’s political thought, Russell Kirk and the Age of Ideology, initially faces the challenge of his imposed, direct framework of transference of ideas—from Burke to Babbitt to Kirk.[2] The influence of Babbitt is significant and should not be minimized, although the propensity to incorporate the insights of Irving Babbitt when Kirk’s own critique would be preferable has manifested itself on occasion among Kirk scholars.  Secondly, the role of literature and humane letters was even more of an overwhelming influence upon Kirk than McDonald initially suggested.
Contrary to the claim that the role of literature became important to Kirk in midlife, it was actually central to his thought as early as the 1940s: witness, for example, Kirk’s early writings on tragedy (1940), George Gissing (1950), and Sir Walter Scott (1952). To his great credit, McDonald provides a close reading and explication of the very extensive corpus of Kirk’s writings. McDonald’s exegesis of Kirk’s Enemies of the Permanent Things (1969) should encourage interest anew in a work that outlines many of the most important themes of the Kirkian enterprise.
McDonald brilliantly articulates Kirk’s use of history as a tool of analysis for his political thought. His depiction of the errors of Leo Strauss’s view of Burke, especially in Natural Right and History (1950), as compared to Kirk’s own critique, are groundbreaking as well. Kirk often noted that Strauss had reconsidered his original assessment of Burke. According to Kirk, Strauss offered these comments to him while Kirk was a guest lecturer under the auspices of Strauss at the University of Chicago. Kirk noted that Strauss moderated his earlier criticism of Burke, suggesting he was more receptive to Kirk’s own analysis.[3]
The more precise contours of this dialogue and related issues remain opaque in nature, but continue to receive great attention from the epigones of Strauss, as well as from Burke scholars.[4] Finally, McDonald’s discussion of technology in relation to Kirk’s thought is a seminal contribution to our knowledge of Kirk as a critic of contemporary culture.[5]
Gerald J. Russello’s The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk (2007) attempts to revise Kirk’s insights for the 21st century by examining five aspects of his thought: overall mission; interpretation of history; political life; jurisprudence; and his criticism of modern life (Kirk’s “counternarrative”). Kirk’s active engagement with society and politics is detailed, and those who have neglected his work—viewing Kirk as either an advocate of “nostalgia” or a “static version of some ideal past”—are introduced to the more engaging potentialities of his achievement. The vital role of tradition and history for Kirk are explored with great clarity and sensitivity, along with Kirk’s views of politics and statesmanship. The treatment of the interconnection between natural law and American constitutionalism in Kirk’s writings also deserves commendation. Most importantly, Russello provides a sagacious refutation of the often unreflective criticisms of Kirk, while affirming the vitality of his thought for contemporary politics.
As noted, all of these Kirk studies are outstanding efforts, but Birzer’s encyclopedic critique of the Duke of Mecosta is a masterwork. When approaching a study of the greatest figure in modern conservatism, it should be noted that Russell Kirk was a political thinker, historian, political theorist, journalist, and one who served in many other capacities. Kirk’s significance is also not limited to the conservative movement, and while he identified himself as a conservative, he was a man of humane learning who engaged the major political movements he encountered and all personages who crossed his path.
In Birzer’s first chapter, entitled “Desert Humanist,” the reader will discover a very useful survey of Kirk’s early life, and a critique of Kirk’s emerging plea for the return to traditional concepts of political order and power. Kirk’s early academic experiences, especially at Duke University as a graduate student under the influence of his two mentors, Jay Hubbell (English) and Charles Sydnor (history), are also important to the narrative Birzer constructs. Unfortunately, Hubbell does not receive mention in the text, but was a major influence upon the young Kirk in all matters literary.
Birzer appropriately spends a great deal of time on Kirk’s developmental defense of the moral basis of social and political life. Two problems arise, though: the overdependence on Catholicism to explain Kirk’s emerging worldview; and the unintentional effort to make Kirk more libertarian than he was, even in his earlier writings. Kirk was essentially a Christian ecumenist, although he did make his way to Rome. Of Kirk’s four greatest clerical friends, Canon Basil Alec Smith, Rev. Dr. Lynn Harold Hough, Canon Bernard Iddings Bell, and Father Martin D’Arcy, S. J., only one was Roman Catholic—and all four were major advocates of ecumenism, properly understood—Smith as a man of letters and leading Anglican clergyman, Hough as the Dean of Drew Divinity School, Bell as a leading cleric and President of what is now Bard College, and D’Arcy as an internationally respected intellectual.[6] Additionally, Kirk’s view of natural law is closer to the classical, consensual Christian tradition than other schools of interpretation.
Perhaps of greatest enduring importance to scholarship is Birzer’s very convincing and accurate depiction Kirk’s abiding humanism and the centrality of community to Kirk’s thought. Kirk believed that humankind’s primary obligation lies in his or her community.  Self-discipline and love of neighbor began with the individual, and spread to the community, and then to society as a whole. In other words, Kirk’s concept of community serves to define the limitations of society and politics for on one hand, while on the other it presupposes and defends the necessity of a properly constituted community for securing the moral and ethical results concomitant to society’s perpetuation.
With Birzer’s Russell Kirk, the academic community has the definitive assessment of Kirk as a social, historical, and political thinker. The work also encourages a much-needed reaffirmation of the vitality of the conservative intellectual tradition. With great clarity and erudition, this new study allows readers to appreciate Kirk as a defender of community and genuine diversity.
[1] Another exception to the inadequacy of thoughtful and scholarly engaged recent scholarship on Kirk is James McClellan’s “Russell Kirk’s Anglo-American Conservatism,” in History of American Political Thought, edited by Bryan-Paul Frost and Jeffrey Sikkenga (Lexington Books, 2003).
[3] Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered (Sherwood Sugden and Company, 1988), p. 185.
[4] See Bradley J. Birzer, Russell Kirk: American Conservative (University Press of Kentucky, 2015), p. 190.
[5] Consider Kirk’s “Humane Learning in the Age of the Computer,” in Wise Men (republished in the posthumously published collection of essays, Redeeming the Time {1996}). Kirk’s response to the critical reviews of Wise Men may provide some additional commentary as well.
[6] Birzer neglects to integrate Father D’Arcy into his larger Kirkian narrative, but he is appreciative of his contribution to scholarship and Catholic social and political life.  See Bradley J. Birzer, “Order”: The Brief and Extraordinary Life of a Catholic Movement,” Catholic World Report, September 13, 2015.

H. Lee Cheek, Jr., is Dean of the Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science and Religion at East Georgia State College, and a Senior Fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute. Dr. Cheek's latest book is Patrick Henry-Onslow: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought (Lexington Books, 2013).

- See more at: http://www.libertylawsite.org/2016/03/29/a-kirkian-renaissance/#sthash.QtFIkjTh.dpuf

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Second edition of popular edited “classic” text by EGSC Dean to Appear


Second edition of popular edited “classic” text by EGSC Dean to appear
 

  EGSC’s Lee Cheek, Dean of the School of Social Sciences, has edited one of the major works on American politics, John C. Calhoun’s A Disquisition on Government. Cheek’s edited book is the most widely adopted version of the text among colleges and universities in America today, and a second edition of the book will appear next month.

   According Cheek’s publisher, Bruce Fingerhut, President of St. Augustine’s Press, “this volume provides the most economical and textually accurate version of Calhoun’s Disquisition available today. As a treatise, the Disquisition is one of the greatest and most enduring works of American political thought, and a text of seminal importance to all students of American politics, history, philosophy, and law.”

   In the Disquisition, Calhoun believed he had laid a “solid foundation for political science” through revitalizing popular rule. To complete his theoretical and practical mission, Calhoun attempts to explain the best example of the diffusion of authority and cultivation of liberty: the American Constitution.

   Dr. Cheek’s introduction to the classic edition notes that “Calhoun presents a theory of politics that is both original and in accord with the mainstream of the American political tradition. More than any other thinker of his period, Calhoun sought to explain the enduring qualities of American political thought in light of the troubled world of the mid-nineteenth century.”

   For Cheek, the book seeks to reconcile the good of popular rule with political ethics, and this has special importance to many nations in the twenty-first century, despite the ethnic animosities threatening their destruction.

Originally Posted: January 22, 2016 by Katelyn Moore
Last Edited: February 03, 2016 by Katelyn Moore

Monday, February 8, 2016

Dr. Cheek's Commencement Address at EGSC, 12 December 2015

Commencement address by Dr. H. Lee Cheek, Jr., Dean of the School of Social Sciences, at East Georgia State College, 12 December 2015, Swainsboro, Georgia.  The title of the address was "Where Are You Going?"https://youtu.be/jvFidZGb3lY




Sunday, May 17, 2015

EGSC Dean Cheek Publishes Article on Major 20th Century Southern Thinker

EGSC Dean Cheek Publishes Article on Major 20th Century Southern Thinker
         
Dr. Lee Cheek, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at East Georgia State College, recently published (with Sean Busick) on the scholarly legacy of Mel Bradford, a significant figure in recent scholarly studies of the American South, in the current issue of Modern Age, a leading academic journal.

His books include Political Philosophy and Cultural Renewal (Transaction/Rutgers, 2001, with Kathy B. Cheek); Calhoun and Popular Rule, published by the University of Missouri Press (2001; paper edition, 2004); Calhoun: Selected Speeches and Writings (Regnery, 2003); Order and Legitimacy (Transaction/Rutgers, 2004); an edition of Calhoun's A Disquisition on Government (St. Augustine's, 2007); a critical edition of W. H. Mallock's The Limits of Pure Democracy (Transaction/Rutgers, 2007); a monograph on Wesleyan theology (Wesley Studies Society, 2010); an edition of the classic study, A Theory of Public Opinion (Transaction/Rutgers, 2013); Patrick-Henry Onslow Debate: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought (Lexington, 2013); and, The Founding of the American Republic (Bloomsbury, 2016).  Cheek is a Senior Fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute in New York, and he has been a Fellow of the Wilbur Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, the Center for Judicial Studies, and the Center for International Media Studies.

Source: http://www.ega.edu/articles/detail/egsc_dean_cheek_publishes_article_on_major_20th_century_southern_thinker
 

Monday, January 26, 2015

How Jaffa’s Critics Remember Him








The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, by Armand-Dumaresq, (c. 1873)

The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, by Armand-Dumaresq, (c. 1873)

American political science has lost a significant contributor with the demise of Harry V. Jaffa (1918-2015).  We mourn the death of Professor Jaffa, and acknowledge that there will be many celebrations of his life and scholarly achievements to appear, especially from his epigones. Important contributions from Ken Masugi and Peter Lawler have already appeared in this space. As a mentor, Jaffa inspired a large number of graduate students who have assumed posts in the academy and government.  We call many of these scholars our friends, and continue to appreciate their interpretative approaches and defense of the American political tradition.

He should also be remembered by those of us who disagreed with him.  We differed with Jaffa on his assessments of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, John C. Calhoun, Abraham Lincoln, and contemporary conservatism, among other concerns.  While known as a severe critic of those with whom he disagreed, especially as evinced in various printed mediums, we found Jaffa to be willing to enter into frank and open dialogue with some regularity.  We believe his harshest criticisms were often reserved for those scholars he thought might “derail” his understanding of the Straussian philosophical mission.[1]
We were introduced to Jaffa by our friend, Melvin Eustace Bradford, Jaffa’s most famous and erudite interlocutor and respected adversary.  To understand Jaffa, Bradford opined that one must confront Jaffa’s argument that the Declaration was a revolutionary document; indeed, that it founded America on the principle of equality.  That “equality . . . is then both good in itself and good for its consequences.”  And that “the rooting of constitutionalism, and the rule of law in a doctrine of universal human rights, in the political act of a people declaring independence, is unique and unprecedented.”

Jaffa and some of his fellow disciples of Leo Strauss then argued that the natural law idea of universal human rights which they find in the Declaration, is also the guiding principle of the Constitution, and provides the surest means of interpreting the Constitution.  In Jaffa’s view, equality and universal human rights was the “deferred promise” of the Declaration (and the Constitution) that it fell upon subsequent generations to fulfill by continuing the radical Revolution.  With Bradford, we disagreed with Professor Jaffa: There is not a single shred of evidence that anyone at the Philadelphia Convention or any of the state ratifying conventions believed that the Constitution incorporated this version of a natural law understanding of universal human rights from the Declaration. Nevertheless, Jaffa criticized Robert Bork, Russell Kirk, former Attorney General Ed Meese, and Supreme Court justices William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia for failing to interpret the Constitution in light of his understanding of the Declaration, accusing them of being disciples of John C. Calhoun.  In fact, Jaffa argued that his interpretation was capable of correcting all of the alleged misinterpretations of the Constitution.[2]
Bradford responded to Jaffa that equality was not a conservative principle.  “Contrary to most Liberals, new and old, it is nothing less than sophistry to distinguish between equality of opportunity . . . and equality of condition. . . . For only those who are equal can take equal advantage of a given circumstance.  And there is no man equal to any other, except perhaps in the special, and politically untranslatable, understanding of the Deity.”  The only way such equality can be achieved is for it to be enforced by a totalitarian central government.  And people will demand that it is enforced because “envy is the basis of its broad appeal. . . .  Furthermore, hue and cry over equality of opportunity and equal rights leads, a fortiori, to a final demand for equality of condition.”[3]

We argue that the Declaration is not revolutionary at all. The Declaration simply “confirms an existing state of affairs.”[4]  By July 1776, Americans had been fighting the British for over a year (since April 1775).  The battles of Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, Sullivan’s Island had already been fought.  Congress had created the Continental Army, with George Washington at its head.  The colonies, led by Virginia, had already begun individually declaring their independence and adopting new constitutions that did not recognize the authority of either King or Parliament in their affairs.  In July 1776, a British army was descending upon Long Island, and the King had declared Americans to be in rebellion and outside of his protection.  As Pauline Maier, the foremost authority on the Declaration has said in response to Straussian attempts to incorporate it into the Constitution as one of our nation’s founding documents:  “The Declaration is not a founding document.  It is a de-founding document.”  That is, it did not found a nation, it was a secessionist document that declared the dissolution of a nation.

The idea of the “deferred promise” of Equality and universal human rights was engrafted onto the Constitution by Lincoln and subsequent generations of liberals.  It was not present at the Founding.  With Bradford, our primary objections to Lincoln stem from his “misunderstanding of the Declaration as a ‘deferred promise’ of equality.”  Bradford argued that “Lincoln’s ‘second founding’ is fraught with peril and carries with it the prospect of an endless series of turmoils and revolutions, all dedicated to freshly discovered meanings of equality as a ‘proposition.’”  Bradford called this peril a “millenarian infection” that could arm and enthrone a Caesar who would be empowered, through the rhetoric of the “deferred promise,” to “reform the world into an imitation of themselves.”[5]

Finally, in our disagreement, we also recognize Jaffa’s contribution to the ongoing debates in American politics.  Our understanding of the American regime was strengthened by our encounters with Professor Jaffa and his scholarship.  Jaffa was an unrelenting patriot, and his devotion to preserving our political order never wavered.  In many regards, the extended debate he and Bradford undertook proves that honest dialogue can take place even when confronting significant areas of disagreement.  It also suggests we have significant agreement on the vitality of the American regime and our need to defend the principles of the American Founding amidst the challenges that lie ahead.

[1] See Harry Jaffa, Crisis of the Strauss Divided (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012), for examples of his critique.

[2] “Do I not bring philosophy down from the heavens and into the city—making it practical and political—when I demonstrate by my critiques of Kendall, Bradford, and Wills, that their doctrines are merely varieties of Confederate doctrine, and that the vital center for their beliefs is derived from John C. Calhoun? Do I not do that even more profoundly, when I show that the ‘Marx of the Master Class’ is not, in the crucial respect, so very different from Marx himself, since the proslavery attack on free society, and the Marxist critique of capitalism, closely coincide?” (Harry Jaffa, American Conservatism and the American Founding [Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1984], 136)..

[3] M. E. Bradford, “The Heresy of Equality: Bradford Replies to Jaffa,” in Modern Age Winter 1976, volume 20, number 1, 62.  Also see Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (New York: Knopf, 1997), p. 186, et al.

[4] H. Lee Cheek, Sean R. Busick, and Nathan Coleman, The Founding of the American Republic (New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016).

[5] Ibid., 69.

H. Lee Cheek, Jr.

H. Lee Cheek, Jr., is Dean of the Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science and Religion at East Georgia State College, and a Senior Fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute. Dr. Cheek's latest book is Patrick Henry-Onslow: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought (Lexington Books, 2013).

Sean Busick

Sean Busick is Associate Professor of History at Athens State University. He is the author of A Sober Desire for History: William Gilmore Simms as Historian (University of South Carolina Press, 2005).

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Rethinking of Political “Thinking”





Freeden, Michael.  The Political Theory of Political Thinking.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, November 2013.


In a highly erudite and comprehensive manner, the prominent British political theorist Michael Freeden (University of Nottingham) raises fundamental questions about how students of politics and others engage in political thinking.  The author is concerned about the increasingly “slippery” language employed in political discourse, and while admitting that the meaning of political terminology is always undergoing change, there is nevertheless a need for decisiveness and finality to sustain the body politic (p. 74).  Most importantly, Freeden urges a reorientation and renewed linguistic refinement among political theorists, suggesting that such a process would reinvigorate the how we think about politics.  The complexities of the analysis in the work are necessary and do obfuscate from the author’s mission.  For example, “micro” level studies of political language usually fail to provide “interpretative flexibilities” that facilitate broad level of understanding.  Similarly, the goal of encouraging fluidity in political thinking may not always prove useful, suggesting an element of skepticism regarding relativism as a guiding principle for politics.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Work on Burke Reviewed

My review of one of the best books on Edmund Burke's political thought to appear in the last half century, Ian Crowe's _Patriotism and Public Spirit: Edmund Burke and the Role of the Critic in Mid-18th Century Britain_ (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 304 pp. ISBN: 9780804781275), just published in Perspectives on Political Science:

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/eu5U438CS9CuuyuE3JWs/full