Warnings from Russell Kirk

in 1991, Russell Kirk gave the this talk to a group of conservatives associated with the Heritage Foundation. Oh, that we had listened to him. Kirk, one of the primary conservative voices of the 20th century, said the Republican party had lost its way by becoming the party of war and big spending. And this was before the second Iraq war and our endless occupation of the Middle East! (Kirk died in 1994 and did not see the second Iraq war). Let me excerpt some key paragraphs from Kirk’s talk:

Now the Republican Party long boasted of its frugality. The Bush Administration, on the contrary, has stolen some of the Democrats’ old clothes while the sons of Jefferson and Jackson were out bathing. But those purloined garments are ragged; and Republicans look odd and unconvincing when clad in them.

Oppressive Taxation. With respect to a sharp increase in the level of taxes, it seems as if the Bush Administration really does not understand the principle of diminishing returns, or know the history of the consequences of excessive taxation. When computing our federal income tax very recently, my wife and I discovered that more than half our gross income is taken in taxation — federal income tax; Social Security taxes; state income taxes; village, township, and county taxes, school property tax; sales taxes. And we are not of the number of Franklin Roosevelt’s “malefactors of great wealth.” We are in the process of educating four young daughters, paying off mortgages, trying to save something for one’s declining years — I, being seventy-two years of age already — and contributing to charitable causes. Yet we are better off than many taxpayers. What straw will break the camel’s back?

A state that annually exacts in taxes half of a citizen’s income is more oppressive, financially, than the despotisms of old. In the ancient monarchies of China, a tax load of more than ten percent would have been thought unjust. Excessive taxation is a major cause of the decline and fall of great states: so writes C. Northcote Parkinson, the author of Parkinson’s Law, in his last book.

The Bush Administration had one handsome prospect for reducing governmental expenditure, reducing the federal deficit, and possibly even making a gesture at reduction of the federal debt: that is, the prospective contraction of the armed forces, what with the dwindling of the Soviet menace. Instead, Mr. Bush has plunged the United States into a war which, so far, has cost about a billion dollars a day. (You will recall that a billion dollars is a thousand million dollars.) Already, more taxation to pay for this struggle in the Levant is being discussed in Washington. So I quote Parkinson once more: “Taxes become heavier in time of war and should diminish, by rights, when the war is over. That is not, however, what happens. Although sometimes lowered when the war ends, taxes seldom regain their pre-war level. That is because the level of expenditure rises to meet the war-time level of taxation.”

Unless the Bush Administration abruptly reverses its fiscal and military course, I suggest, the Republican Party must lose its former good repute for frugality, and become the party of profligate expenditure, “butter and guns.” And public opinion would not long abide that. Nor would America’s world influence and America’s remaining prosperity.

But, time running on, I must turn to affairs diplomatic and military: Republican errors internationally. What are we to say of Mr. Bush’s present endeavor to bring to pass a gentler, kinder New World Order?

Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson were enthusiasts for American domination of the world. Now George Bush appears to be emulating those eminent Democrats. When the Republicans, once upon a time, nominated for the presidency a “One World” candidate, Wendell Willkie, they were sadly trounced. In general, Republicans throughout the twentieth century have been advocates of prudence and restraint in the conduct of foreign affairs.

But Mr. Bush, out of mixed motives, has embarked upon a radical course of intervention in the region of the Persian Gulf. After carpet-bombing the Cradle of Civilization as no country ever had been bombed before, Mr. Bush sent in hundreds of thousands of soldiers to overrun the Iraqi bunkers — that were garrisoned by dead men, asphyxiated.

And for what reason? The Bush Administration found it difficult to answer that question clearly. In the beginning it was implied that the American national interest required low petroleum prices: therefore, if need be, smite and spare not!

And this:

I doubt whether much good is going to come out of the slaughter of perhaps a hundred thousand people in Iraq. “For one of the troubles of war,” Butterfield writes, “is that it acquires its own momentum and plants its own ideals on our shoulders, so that we are carried far away from the purposes with which we began — carried indeed sometimes to greater acts of spoilation than the ones which had provoked our original entry into the war. Before the war of 1914 had lasted a year, its own workings had generated such a mood that we had promised Russia Constantinople and had bought the alliance of Italy with offers of booty, some of which had later to be disavowed by President Wilson. And it is a remarkable fact that in wars which purport to be so ethical that the states attached to neutrality are sometimes regarded as guilty of a dereliction of duty, the great powers primarily concerned may have required an iniquitous degree of bribery to bring them into the conflict, or to maintain their fidelity. The whole ideal of moderate peace aims, and the whole policy of making war the servant (instead of the master) of negotiation, is impossible — and the whole technique of the ‘war for righteousness’ has a particularly sinister application — when even in the ostensibly ‘defending’ party there is a latent and concealed aggressiveness of colossal scope, as there certainly was in 1914.”

You may perceive some parallels between Butterfield’s description of the course of the Allies during World War I and the course, so far, of the coalition against Iraq.

And this:

True, we did not suffer a long war in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq. But we must expect to suffer during a very long period of widespread hostility toward the United States — even, or perhaps especially, from the people of certain states that America bribed or bullied into combining against Iraq.

Kirk also gave a long excerpt from “1984” and warned of Perpetual War similar to the dystopian future of that novel!

When you consider this speech, does Kirk sound more like John McCain or Ron Paul?

Another thought: Do the Tea Party and/or Liberty Movement Republicans (Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Mike Lee) seem to be echoing Russell Kirk’s philosophy?

If Russell Kirk is one of the founding fathers of modern-day conservatism, shouldn’t the Republican party follow his advice?

This entry was posted in General by Geoff B.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

29 thoughts on “Warnings from Russell Kirk

  1. This is why, the other day on Facebook, someone said that conservatives wouldn’t win another presidential ticket for a long time, and I mentioned that we haven’t had a true conservative on the ticket since at least 1984, and a good case can be made for 1924. Neither Bush Senior, Dole, W. Bush, McCain, or Romney are real conservatives. That’s the funny thing about this. All were foreign and domestic big government interventionists. Not even Reagan was a true blue conservative, seeing as the military and the deficit ballooned under his watch (and I say this as someone who deeply appreciated Reagan on a personal level).

    “Conservative”, much like the term “liberal” has been transmogrified into a Frankenstein monster that means something totally different from the original meaning.

  2. Agreed. This is why Kirk was fighting the ghost of Wendell Willkie into the 1990s. Since TR, there have been at least two tendencies within the Republican party. One tendency has been the progressive “get along to get things done in Washington” type. TR, Hoover, Willkie, Dewey, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, McCain, both Bushes, Dole and Romney generally fall into this category. The other tendency, unfortunately mostly out of power, has been the “stick to core principles of liberty and small government.” Harding, Coolidge, Robert Taft, Goldwater, Reagan (sometimes), Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Justin Amash and Mike Lee fall into this category. As you rightly note, even Reagan increased the size of government (including on domestic spending).

    Democrats and liberals will always love the progressive Republicans after they are dead, out of office or out of favor. So now, Democrats love TR, Eisenhower, Ford and the first Pres. Bush, and will praise McCain and Dole. It is only a matter of time until Romney is held up as a “reasonable” Republican by this cabal. But when they are running for office, Dems and liberals will always oppose them as “far right wing.” So, Republicans can choose between the Republicans that the Democrats will soon love or the Republicans who stick to their principles. I choose the latter group.

  3. I basically agree with Michael Towns. The republican party has become synonymous with being war hawks, corporate cronies, anti-(any)minority, anti-women’s freedom, anti-science*, and disinterested with lower income families. Is it true? Well, if it’s fiction, there’s plenty of fact in the fiction. I picked Obama last election because none of the republican candidates made a compelling case that they would overturn these labels. Not that I’m happy with Obama or even the general democratic party right now, but the republican party has lost me until they reverse some of these trends (a couple of potential rep candidates could change this).

    *Particularly evolution and climate change. Even if there is a lot of controversy still surrounding the human effects on global warming, the fact remains that republicans tend to support policies that exploit the environment and cause pollution to natural habitats and cities. IMO, there’s no reason that strict environmental policies should be a political divide, when breathing air in SLC on some days is as bad as ingesting second hand smoke. But maybe this is a rant for another day. And I won’t even get started about people wanting to limit the study of evolution in schools.

  4. Oops. When I say I agree with Michael Towns, I mean I agree with what he wrote, and then I went on to elaborate my own point, which he may or may not agree with. Not trying to put words in your mouth Michael!

  5. DavidF, if Rand Paul were to run against Hillary Clinton in 2016, who gets your vote?

    How about Rand Paul vs. Joe Biden?

    To be clear, I don’t think I can vote for another war hawk Republican. I hated voting for McCain, and I support Romney a bit more in 2012 but was not happy about him. I certainly can’t vote for Biden or Hillary. But I can enthusiastically support Rand Paul, whom I consider the best viable presidential candidate since Reagan.

    (FYI: I voted for Clinton twice, and the 1990s Clinton was a guy I could support. The 2013 Clinton, not so much).

  6. I agree. This is why I no longer closely associate myself with the Republican party. Neo-Conservatives have taken over the party, leaving what were once common voices (like Rand Paul), now out on the edge.

    I look forward to the day when Americans are tired of the bondage the two main parties have given them, and they thrust off the massive debt, the massive government regulation, the loss of our sons and daughters in unnecessary nation building, etc.

  7. Geoff B.,

    My top choice of those scenarios would be Biden. I’m not a big fan of his politics, but he’s able to pull off compromises, and when it comes to politics I’m more realist than idealist (which is partly why I’m not a libertarian). I also don’t think he’d be a very strong president, which I am a fan of. But my top two choices for 2016 are Huntsman followed by Christie, assuming Huntsman will take another shot at the title.

  8. David F, I actually liked Huntsman. He was my second choice after Ron Paul during the Republican primaries. He is generally fiscally conservative and socially moderate, which is basically where I am. His foreign policy was pretty decent. I can’t comment on Christie yet until I see where he comes down on foreign policy. Again, fiscally conservative and socially moderate, so probably OK.

    Both would be better than Santorum and probably Marco Rubio, who seems to be a neocon sympathizer and not as good on fiscal issues as I would have liked.

  9. I must say, you have to look no farther than Biden to see how far our politics have descended into the clowns vs. the clowns. Biden will garner absolutely no respect from anybody and will be seen universally as a joke. Nevertheless, chances are pretty good he has a serious chance of being our next president. (Santorum is a similar joke on the Republican side, so this is not just an anti-Biden comment).

  10. Biden is well known in DC for being the guy doing most of the talking during meetings and there being an inverse relationship between the amount of his speech and there being substantive weight to said speech.

    How about we pick someone who hasn’t literally spent 40 years inside the Beltway? Surely we can do better, as a people and as a society, than Biden.

  11. I’d vote for a relatively anti-war pro-science Republican realist over a Democrat any day. Problem is, the vast majority of Republicans are either idealists (not realists), quite pro-war, and/or not pro-science.

    In other words, I’d vote for Huntsman. Unfortunately, he’s too moderate to have much of a chance in today’s Republican primaries.

    I’m not sure I could vote for Biden. I guess a lot depends on what our options are in a couple of years. Not that my vote for president matters much anyway–my state always goes for the Republican. Maybe I can make a difference in the Republican primaries, though.

  12. Tim,

    I doubt Huntsman will win too. He and Christie are both pretty moderate, so they’ll be competing for that angle in convention. But since Christie is slightly more conservative, the party would probably feel more at ease putting him in the primaries. I think too many conservatives are banking on Rubio, who could possibly win, but won’t do anything to solve the rifts in a deeply divided congress.

  13. Just for the record, there are PLENTY of anti-science liberals and Democrats. This “the Republicans are anti-science” meme has gone on a bit too long. I can’t remember, but I believe Geoff himself posted a link once showcasing the many instances where liberal Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans of ignoring science when it doesn’t confirm their deeply held political conceits.

  14. About Michael Town’s first comment, and the post, it seems to me that you are saying that a true blue conservative president is basically unelectable, given that you’ve not even had a true blue candidate on the ticket since 1924. Even Reagan? Would Reagan have supported the 1st Gulf War, the 2nd Gulf War, the Bush Bailout? Yes, he would have supported them all. Reagan always knew which way the wind was blowing. The only reason he retains an aura of integrity is because the circumstances of his presidency allowed him to demonstrate strong conservative leadership in what happened to be failing liberal climate. Elect Reagan in 2000, and GWB in 1980, and GWB would be the ideal conservative, and Reagan would be the failure.

    All presidents behave the same. They all go to the middle. They go with polticial consensus and they play to win. A far-right President is a political impossibility in an evenly split democracy with as many checks and balances as our government has.

  15. Yes, the “Republicans are anti-science” meme is absolutely ridiculous. Two Dem senators said the recent Oklahoma tornado was the result of more tornadoes taking place because of global warming. By any standard, there are fewer tornadoes now than any recent decade. Anti-science Democrats? Indeed.

    Tim and DavidF, I don’t believe you when you say you would vote for Huntsman if he were nominated. Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying you are liars. I am simply going on recent history. John McCain was all mavericky and was the favorite Republican of the left all through Bush’s presidency (remember he was against the Bush tax cuts, sponsored McCain-Feingold, was pro-immigration reform and voted for the Medicare expansion and the Education department expansion). He was despised by most conservatives. And of course he got nominated and all of the sudden the left turned him into a right-wing bogey man. The exact same thing will happen with Huntsman. Daily Kos will be saying what a right-winger he is because he didn’t favor gay marriage, blah-blah-blah. Sorry, there is zero chance that any of the educated liberals I know will vote for Huntsman if he is the Republican candidate. If that is the case, we might as well go for Rand Paul. Just my two cents.

  16. Why I’d vote for Huntsman (and was hoping to vote for him in the last election if he won the primaries):

    1. He’s pro-science. I was in my last year of a Biology Education program in Utah when the Utah Senate decided to come up with a bill that would have directly and significantly impacted what I would be teaching as a biology teacher. It was one of the dumbest bills imaginable, and very much anti-science. BYU biology professors and other biologists came in to speak out against it. To my horror, the Utah Senate Republicans passed it anyway. Governor Huntsman threatened to veto it if it got to his desk, after which the bill fizzled and died.

    2. He accepts global warming is happening and that it’s human-caused, and isn’t an anti-environmentalist. I really don’t want to get into a global warming discussion here–there are other venues for that–but it’s significant to me that Huntsman realizes this reality and wants to focus on it, especially as the economy recovers.

    3. He’s a realist.

    4. He’s a moderate. He was not afraid to be Obama’s ambassador to China.

    5. He has extensive foreign policy experience.

    6. He doesn’t strike me as being pro-war.

    7. He wants more legal immigration and supported the DREAM Act.

    8. He gets things done. When he became governor in Utah, the Legacy Highway was not being built because of a lawsuit between the state and environmentalists. The state was losing a ton of money every day while this lawsuit was going forward–mainly on a workforce they were paying even though that workforce was just sitting around, waiting for the lawsuit to end. Huntsman was sworn in and immediately went to work getting a compromise put together. Huntsman quickly did what the previous governor didn’t, the state stopped losing money on the Highway, and the thing got built.

    9. He’s not afraid to criticize his party.

    10. He’s a progressive rock fan. Seriously. When Dream Theater (finally) came to Salt Lake, he declared it officially “Dream Theater Day.” And of course he was at the concert. It’s evidence that he’s true to himself and his interests, even if those interests don’t help him at all politically.

    Sure, I don’t agree with all his stances. But I’ve been a huge Huntsman fan for eight years or so, and I don’t think there’s anyone on this planet I’d rather see as president. As I said earlier, I would’ve voted for him over Obama, and I liked Obama quite a bit more than Kerry in 2004 or Hillary Clinton in 2008.

  17. I’d also like to point out that McCain veered significantly to the right recently. His stance on immigration and other issues changed quite a bit. Unfortunately, I don’t think he could’ve won the Republican primaries without these changes.

    Huntsman’s more moderate than the “old” McCain. If he veers further to the right (which would disappoint me quite a bit) he won’t be as attractive of a candidate.

    Honestly, I don’t know if I would’ve voted for the “old” McCain or not. Against Kerry or Clinton, I would’ve probably voted for him. Against Obama five years ago, probably Obama. Against Obama last year (and I realize McCain didn’t run here), it would probably entirely depend on what McCain would’ve said about solving our healthcare crisis.

  18. Tim, very good comments. I am still skeptical that any educated liberals that I know (including you) would vote for Huntsman because he will need to say and do things just like McCain to be chosen by the Republican party. As I said, the professional left will spend the entire pre-election period pointing out what a wacky right-winger he is compared to those wonderful heroes Hillary or Biden, and I think all of the educated liberals I know will fall for it. It doesn’t matter that he was a pretty good governor and a moderate and “pro-science” (a really silly phrase, but whatever). He will be forced to say that Social Security and Medicare need to be reformed and that we can’t continue to grow government endlessly, and the professional left will rally around whatever loser the Dems put up.

    It is probably a moot point because Huntsman will never get through the primaries and probably realizes this and is not likely to run again. FWIW, I would probably vote for Huntsman. If the Republicans nominate Santorum or Rubio I will probably vote for the libertarian candidate.

  19. Why the whole “pro-science” phrase really bugs me: nearly everybody is pro-science (except for perhaps Ted Kacinski). People just disagree on many of the supposed “facts” that politicized people use to promote their version of politics (while claiming they are simply being scientific).

    Republicans are more likely than Democrats and Independents to say that science has a positive effect on society:


    I am not saying this to defend Republicans but instead to point out the meme “Republicans are anti-science” is simply stupid.

    As this article points out, even from the warped perspective of pro-AGW people, the Democrats are against vast areas of accepted science: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2011-09-20/gop-democrats-science-evolution-vaccine/50482856/1

    It was primarily Democrats who promoted the end of DDT use in the Third World, which has caused millions of unnecessary deaths.


    And it was primarily Democrats who are promoting global warming alarmism, causing scientific dollars to chase a chimera rather than take on real problems of poverty, hunger, increasing crop yields, irrigation, etc. Again, millions of people could be helped in the Third World; instead, Democrats are worrying about the concerns of wealthy people in the north.

  20. “About Michael Town’s first comment, and the post, it seems to me that you are saying that a true blue conservative president is basically unelectable, given that you’ve not even had a true blue candidate on the ticket since 1924. Even Reagan? Would Reagan have supported the 1st Gulf War, the 2nd Gulf War, the Bush Bailout? Yes, he would have supported them all. Reagan always knew which way the wind was blowing.”

    Nate, I agree with you that Reagan was a consummate politician; however I disagree with your take on his politics. I’ve read about two dozen books on Reagan; the man that comes up in those books doesn’t match your glib assumption that he would’ve been a warmonger. In fact, during Reagan’s second term in office, he angered conservatives by engaging with Gorbachev. I think your assumption that he would have been for the Second Iraq War is way off key from the Reagan I’ve come to know from the past twenty years of reading about him.

    “All presidents behave the same. They all go to the middle. They go with polticial consensus and they play to win. A far-right President is a political impossibility in an evenly split democracy with as many checks and balances as our government has.”

    No…I disagree. Not so much with the “play to win” and consensus part but with the idea that all presidents “behave the same” and that a far-right President is a political impossibility. Some would have said ten years ago that America would never elect a leftist black man with the middle name Hussein and who never ran so much as a fruit stand. Yet here we are. I think prophecy and prognostication with respect to who is and who isn’t electable is a dangerous and foolhardy game to play.

    Obama’s behavior as president is markedly different from his predecessor. It is markedly different from Reagan; it is markedly different from Jimmy Carter despite certain ideological proclivities.

    Nate, I think you are painting with too broad a brush with some of your political commentary.

  21. Michael Towns, I see Obama as left-center, but it seems you see him as far-left. I see Reagan as center-right, but you see him as more far-right. I think if you listen to what Obama and Reagan say, you might get the impression that they are extremists. But if you see what they actually accomplish, within the context of the current political center-points, you see that they are both moderates. Obamacare was originally a center-right proposal. Reagan raised taxes many times. Many commentators noted that Reagan would be unnelectable in today’s Republican primaries because of his dirty record.

    I also don’t think “engaging Gorbachov” is any evidence that he would have been a softy towards Saddam Hussain. The two situations are entirely different. The 2nd Gulf War recieved near unanimous support from the main power-brokers on both sides of the isle. I simply don’t see Reagan standing up to that. When you have your finger on the button, you cannot afford to be a cavalier idealouge. You have to weigh decisions in council, which means taking consensus very seriously.

  22. “Michael Towns, I see Obama as left-center, but it seems you see him as far-left. I see Reagan as center-right, but you see him as more far-right. I think if you listen to what Obama and Reagan say, you might get the impression that they are extremists. But if you see what they actually accomplish, within the context of the current political center-points, you see that they are both moderates. ”

    I actually agree with Nate on this. Obama’s rhetoric is vastly different from Bush, but their actual policies are largely the same. We only hear the speeches — we rarely look deeply into their actual behavior. Obama, for example, continues to preach against Guantanamo and drone warfare, just as he did prior to his election — and yet he continues to expand the drone warfare and continues to keep Guantanamo open. This is just one example among many where his far-left rhetoric don’t actually match up with his actions. The same was true of Reagan — he used right-wing rhetoric, but often behaved very moderately.

    If we look at the level of rhetoric, we might believe that presidents behave very differently. If we look at the level of action, we see that not much has changed in actual policy on the ground in the past decade at least, if not much, much longer.

  23. I will say that there is often a difference in competence, even if there is not a difference in actual behavior.

  24. Nate and ldsphilosopher,

    I’m afraid you both have made some assumptions. First, I don’t consider Obama to be “far-left”, and I don’t consider Reagan to have been “far-right”. Once you dissolve that misunderstanding, much of your criticism of my view goes away.

    I am well aware, trust me, of the many ways in which Obama’s first term was W. Bush’s third. I think you guys are reading way too much into my comments. I went back and read what I wrote, and I’m puzzled why you came to such conclusions regarding my views of Obama, Reagan, etc.

    Despite the similarities, there are still profound differences. Let me illustrate by one example:

    1. Neither Reagan or W. Bush would seek to impose secular sexual values on the Catholic Church, its agencies or subsidiaries. The Obama Administration has done so repeatedly. There are many lawsuits against Kathleen Sibelius, look them up, they are almost uniformly anti-religious freedom. Reagan would be very angry at such federal predations. Neither would Reagan or W. Bush give a speech at Planned Parenthood. Both were personally disgusted with abortion, particularly partial birth abortion.

    I can other differences. My point earlier still stands: you are painting with too broad a brush and missing vital nuances.

  25. “I also don’t think “engaging Gorbachov” is any evidence that he would have been a softy towards Saddam Hussain”

    Okay. It isn’t exactly proof positive that he wouldn’t either, can we agree to that? If you think that Reagan would have been bullied into launching a war, you have not gotten to know Reagan very well. He abhorred war, despite his strong rhetoric and often strong military actions in Grenada and Libya.

  26. Huntsman will go nowhere, simply because he burned a lot of bridges his last time out. He thought he would inspire people, but instead he attacked his own Republican base, and now he’s pretty much Kryptonite.

    That said, I think Rand Paul is the new rising star. He is saying the right things, doing the right things, and getting noticed. Even the neocons in power are supporting him on many things he is doing, including his filibuster. The nice thing about electing him, is if he has to moderate himself and move to the middle, it will still be far right of where Huntsman, Christie or Rubio would be.

    Instead of a big military/foreign policy government, we would get a truly smaller government out of the deal. Perhaps with the scandals in the IRS and Justice Dept, we may see more people wanting to truly shrink the fed.

  27. How am I supposed to fall for this cleverly concealed spam attempt if they don’t even give me links to click on? Sigh. I was just about to get my credit card…

Comments are closed.