REVIEWSrnHis Final Lessonrnby Scott p. RicheitrnThe Sword of Imagination; Memoirsrnof a Half-Century of Literary Conflictrnby Russell KirkrnGrand Rapids: William B. EerdmansrnPublishing Company;rn497 pp., $35.00rnAfriend of mine has expressed the devoutrnhope that, upon his death, hisrnwife and children wih have the goodrnsense to burn his papers. While his mainrndesire is to prevent unfinished thoughtsrnfrom seeing the light of day, there arernother, equally important, concerns.rnPosthumously published works allow enemiesrnto attack without fear of reprisal;rneven worse, they encourage excessive—rnand uncritical—adulation from friends.rnThe Sword of Imagination has provokedrnboth responses.rnBy the time of his death in 1994, RussellrnKirk had generated an impressivernbody of work that included over 30 booksrnand hundreds of articles and reviews.rnDeparting from this vale of tears, he leftrnbehind his completed but unpublishedrnmemoirs, which appeared a year later asrnthe current volume. In the preface. Kirkrnnotes his peculiar (but for him characteristic)rnstylistic choice: “Emulating JuliusrnCaesar, Henry Esmond, and HenryrnAdams, I express my memoirs, throughoutrnthe following chapters, in the thirdrnperson—that mode being less embarrassingrnto authors who set at defiancernthe ravenous ego. Besides, when thernman within . . . regards critically the lifernof the outer man, it may be possible tornattain some degree of objectivity—usingrnthat word in its signification of detachmentrnfrom strong emotion or personalrnprejudice.” Curiously, Kirk was toornmuch of a Romantic not to know thatrn”objectivity,” especially regarding oneself,rnis a hction. Indeed, the pretense ofrnobjectivity often serves as cover for “thernravenous ego,” rather than setting it atrndefiance. Some readers, especially ifrnthey did not know Kirk, may suspect thatrnto be true in this case.rnThe decision to write in the third personrnmay be at once the book’s strongestrnpoint and its weakest. It allows Kirk tornput into writing emotions that he couldrnnever express in the first person, especiallyrnabout his family life. On the otherrnhand, portions of The Sword of Imaginationrn(for instance, where the author discussesrnthe importance of his own work,rnor its influence) read like the work of arnbiographer, even a hagiographer, ratherrnthan an autobiography. While he mayrnhave seen himself in the third personrn(and some who were close to him oftenrnsuspected he did). Kirk might betterrnhave left an appraisal of his own work tornothers.rnForty years after the publication of arnbook is probably too soon to be able torngauge its long-term significance. YetrnKirk attributes the rightward drift ofrnAmerican politics in recent decades inrnno small part to the influence of ThernConservative Mind: “So it was that ThernConservative Mind—working through arnkind of intellectual osmosis and popularizedrnthrough newspapers and mass-audiencernmagazines, radio and even televisionrncommentators, and other media ofrnopinion—gradually helped to alter thernclimate of political and moral opinion. Arngeneration later. Kirk’s works would berncited and quoted by the president andrnthe vice president of the United States.”rnWhether, a century from now, historiansrnwill draw such a connection is anybody’srnguess; but even if they should do so,rnwhat would it mean? Ronald Reaganrnquoted more often from Tom Paine, thernintellectual enemy of Kirk’s hero, EdmundrnBurke, than from any other politicalrnfigure; and in his eight years in office,rnhe enshrined as the centerpiece of conservatismrnthose “dreams of avarice” thatrnKirk wanted to get beyond. Though Kirkrnwrites of President Eisenhower that hern”and his people did retard the advance ofrnthe welfare state in America but did litdernto give flesh to the conservati’e imagination,”rnReagan and his people merely fedrnthat imagination a steady diet of Hollywood-rnstyle celluloid, (kirk admits asrnmuch: “Mr. Reagan was endowed with arncertain power of imagination; successfulrnactors almost necessarily have a talent forrnimage-making.”) As for the Vice Presidentrnwho quoted from Kirk’s works,rnwhen he ascended to the presidency Kirkrnfound him “worse than unimaginative—rnmerely sill’, often,” and “would come torndetest Bush for his carpet-bombing ofrnthe Cradle of Civilization with its takingrnof a quarter of a million lives in Iraq.”rnAnd “so in 1992 Kirk became generalrnchairman of Patrick Buchanan’s campaignrnin the Michigan primary.” If ThernConservative Mind really led to Reaganrnand Bush, even Kirk might question thernvalue of that accomplishment.rnUnlike Eisenhower and Reagan, Kirkrndid help to “give flesh to the conservativernimagination,” and the number of conservativernluminaries who claim that hisrnworks played a role in their political andrnintellectual development is legion. Butrntoday, with the conservative movementrnin a shambles and the Republican Partyrnheaded for self-immolation in November,rnperhaps we can learn a final lessonrnfrom Russell Kirk. For unlike those whornhave succumbed to the siren song ofrnWashington, D.C., Kirk realized that thernlasting accomplishments of his life werernnot political, nor even intellectual.rnRather, the^ surrounded him every day,rnand he presents them here in loving detail:rna devoted wife, who still works tirelesslyrnto keep his memory alive; four graciousrndaughters, who will raise theirrnchildren well, as they were raised; a congeriesrnof assistants, who planted trees andrntook long walks with Kirk, and came tornsee the woods and fields that surroundrnMecosta, and even the little village itself,rnthrough the lens of his Romantic imagination.rnIn an age of abstractions, in whichrn”Efficiency and Progress and Equality”rnare seen as more real than “all thosernfascinating and lovable peculiarities ofrnhuman nature and human society thatrnare the products of prescription and tradition,”rnKirk cultivated a sense of mysteryrnand awe and wonder. To his eyes,rnMecosta, shunned and despised by therncommissars of big government, big business,rnand big culture, was a Brigadoon.rnAs a business partner of Kirk’s once remarked,rn”Russell, you are the last of thernRomantics, and probably the greatest:rnfor nobody else could make tales out ofrnthat God-forsaken Mecosta County.”rnThat Romantic imagination is Kirk’srngreatest legacy. If his influence shouldrncontinue on into the next century, it willrnbe because those who knew him hadrntheir imagination awakened to possibili-rn36/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn