Ultimate Man of Letters

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Last weekend, the Philadelphia Society met at its regional meeting in Atlanta to celebrate the life and thoughts of one of its members—Russell Kirk, arguably one of the pre-eminent men of letters in the twentieth Century.

The author of the seminal work, The Conservative Mind, Kirk lived and worked in Mecosta, Michigan for much of the latter half of his 70-year life. Nevertheless, he influenced multitudes, not only on his frequent forays out of town but in meetings with the hordes of students and scholars who beat a path to the door of his working residence on Piety Hill.

Bradley Birzer, who serves on the faculty at Hillsdale, has written a biography  of Kirk largely drawn on seven decades of correspondence that Kirk’s widow made available to the Hillsdale historian. Among the insights on Kirk that Birzer shared at the Friday night dinner at the Society meeting in Atlanta:

  • “Many people have tried to manage Russell Kirk and he got away from every one of them.”
  • “He debated [socialist] Norman Thomas and Malcolm X but he always tried to find some humanity in them.”
  • “One of the people Kirk admired most is Leo Strauss.”
  • “He quit Modern Age in 1960 because he thought the editors had become anti-semitic.”
  • “T. S. Eliot asked Kirk to write the book on him.”
  • “Kirk wrestled with himself [metaphorically] over whether to join the Indians protesting at Wounded Knee.” See Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.