Russell Kirk; Voice for Conservatism

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Russell Kirk, an eloquent spokesman for conservatism for 40 years whose views were valued by former presidents and whose writings helped solidify a divisive movement, died Friday.

The former National Review columnist and author of “The Conservative Mind,” a seminal work in the literature of American conservatism, was 75.

Kirk died of congestive heart failure at his rural home here, said his daughter, Monica Carman.

He wrote more than 25 books and hundreds of columns for the New York Times, Christianity Today, the Yale Review and other publications.


“The Conservative Mind” was first published in 1953 and was recently revised a seventh time. Time magazine devoted its entire book review section to the work when it was published, saying: “Kirk tells his story of the conservative stream with the warmth that belongs to it. Even Americans who do not agree may feel the warmth--and perhaps feel the wonder of conservative intuition and prophecy.”

A year after its publication, William Buckley introduced the National Review, giving a dormant conservative movement new voice and life. The conservative philosophy had been relatively silent since reformist Theodore Roosevelt formed a third party in 1912, splitting the Republican vote between himself and conservative President William Howard Taft. Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s victory was the result.

In his first book, Kirk said “liberal” ideas have not generally defined the American experience.

“In essence,” Kirk wrote, “‘the body of belief that we call ‘conservatism’ is an affirmation of normality in society. There exists standards to which we may repair; man is not perfectible, but he may achieve a tolerable degree of order, justice and freedom.”


Former President Ronald Reagan once said Kirk helped renew interest in conservatism and “guided Americans in finding the meanings of the political world around them and in dealing with the universal problems of the human experience.”