In the first chapter of his work, entitled “Kirk and the Rebirth of American Conservatism,” Wes provided an excellent survey of Kirk’s plea for the return to traditional concepts of political order and power. The description of Kirk’s education experiences was alluring, and at my insistence, he included Kirk’s private reading as an undergraduate at Michigan State, where he was engrossed in Donald Davidson’s Attack on Leviathan; and the influence of his two mentors at Duke, Jay Hubbell (English) and Charles Sydnor (History). Additionally, Wes’s inclusion of Kirk’s own commentary as contained in his Sword of Imagination made this an exemplary introduction to Kirk’s early intellectual life.
The next two chapters are central to his book. Wes thoughtfully conveys Kirk’s defense of the moral basis of social and political life, and the appropriate role of rights and natural law. Wes depended heavily on Irving Babbitt to explain Kirk, and the effort to distinguish Kirk explicitly from the Christian tradition of natural law thinking evoked some criticism. While Wes may have overemphasized Babbitt’s influence and the insights of the New Humanists (and their contemporary disciples), he was still prescient in his understanding of Kirk’s worldview. He was also correct to suggest the important role of literature and humane letters upon Kirk. For example, Wes’s analysis of Kirk’s Enemies volume by is wonderful and this contribution alone will encourage a new generation of readers to encounter this tome.
Wes’s chapters (four and five) on Kirk’s contributions to political theory scholarship are the best assessment of Kirk’s political thought every written. Chapter six delineates the centrality of community to Kirk’s thought, and is presented with great accuracy and clarity. Wes’s stress on the role assumed by self-restraint makes the chapter an important contribution to Kirk scholarship. Kirk believed that humankind’s primary obligation lies in his or her community. Self-discipline and love of neighbor begin 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 on 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.
There remain among us many who knew and loved Russell Kirk, but very few of us who have devoted our lives to the exegesis of his boundless wisdom for the rising generation. With the departing of Wes for the Heavenly Banquet, we defenders of the “permanent things” should remember one of the finest comrades and gentlemen to have come our way.