REVIEWSrnThe Sacred Gardenrnby W. Wesley McDonaldrnRussell Kirk: A Critical Biographyrnof a Conservative Mindrnby James E. Person, ]r.rnLanham, Maryland: Madison Books;rn249 pp., $26.95rnWhile Russell Kirk (1918-1994) hasrnbeen widely recognized as a formativernfigure in the postwar conservativernrevival, his reputation has undergone dramaticrnchanges since the publication ofrnhis magisterial The Conservative Mind inrn1953. In the 1950’s, Newsweek and Timernhailed the young scholar as “one of thernforemost intellectual spokesmen for thernconservative position” and a “gifted” writer.rnHis books were favorably reviewed inrnrespected and widely circulated publications.rnYet his treatment during the followingrndecades by the establishmentrnpress and publishers was far less sympathetic;rnhis articles and books receivedrnscant or dismissive attention outside conservativerncircles. Kirk “was well on hisrnway, in the 1950’s, to becoming one ofrnAmerica’s great literary celebrities,” butrnby 1985, as Thomas Fleming noted, itrn”would be unusual to find him mentionedrnin the New Republic, much lessrnthe Nation.” Although Ronald Reaganrnsaluted him in 1981 as one of the “intellectualrnleaders” who had helped to makernthe 1980 conservative electoral victoriesrnpossible. Kirk played only a slight role inrnthe Reagan presidency, which broughtrnneoconservatism to power. Largely ignoredrnby the Washington-based Republicanrnestablishment, his opinions on publie-rnpolicy issues were seldom solicited.rnHis anti-modernist traditionalism, combinedrnwith his characterishcally unfashionablernattire, seemed out of placernamong the button-down Republicans ofrnthe Reagan era.rnJames E. Person, Jr., senior editor atrnthe Gale Groip, is eminently qualified tornwrite Russell Kirk’s intellectual biography.rnA close confidant of the family whornlived for a time at Piety Hill (Kirk’s ancestralrnresidence). Person enjoyed extensivernaccess to his subject during the last yearsrnof Kirk’s life. He assisted Kirk in researchingrnhis memoirs. The Sword ofrnImagination, and edited The UnboughtrnGrace of Life, a collection of essays writtenrnin honor of Kirk and presented tornhim shortly before his death. Personrnhelped sort and catalog Kirk’s voluminousrncorrespondence and made use ofrnhis 10,000-volume personal library whilernit was sdll intact. A published literary critic.rnPerson evaluates Kirk’s fiction andrnshort stories more thoroughly than anyrnprevious commentator had done. Forrnthis alone, his book represents a signalrncontribution to Kirk scholarship.rnBorn in Plymouth, Michigan, on Octoberrn19, 1918, the son of a railroad engineer.rnKirk spent most of his early summersrnin central Michigan, among thern”clannish Pierces” (as he referred to hisrnmother’s family), in the tiny village ofrnMecosta. After a stint in the service duringrnWorld War II, Kirk accepted the postrnof assistant professor of history at MichiganrnState University. While there, herntook a leave of absence to pursue doctoralrnwork at the University of St. Andrews.rnThat ancient Scottish institution conferredrnupon him in 1952 the degree ofrnDoctor of Letters, making him the onlyrnAmerican to have received its highest artsrndegree. His doctoral dissertation. ThernConservative Rout, was re-hded The ConservativernMind and published by HenryrnRegnery to widespread critical acclaim.rnShordy afterward, Kirk resigned from thernfaculty of Michigan State to embark on arncareer as an independent “man of letters.”rnFor the remainder of his life, hernwould earn his keep almost entirely byrnhis pen. His total literary output includesrn32 books; 800 essays, book reviews, andrnarticles; and more than 3,000 newspaperrnand magazine pieces. In addition. Kirkrnfounded Modem Age (which he editedrnfor several years) and the University Bookmanrn(which he edited until his death),rnand wrote both a syndicated newspaperrncolumn and a biweekly one for NationalrnReview.rnKirk’s work spanned a broad range ofrntopics and interests, including politicalrntheory, intellectual history, and social,rncultural, and literary criticism. He authoredrnnumerous supernatural and horrorrnshort stories and three novels. He lecturedrnand wrote on education andrneconomic matters, and at the end of hisrnlife was planning a long study of law andrnjustice. Person states in his preface thatrnhis intention is to demonstrate “the extentrnto which there was an imdergirding unityrnof worldview that informs all [Kirk’s]rnwork.” By examining the moral imagination,rndie contract of eternal society, andrnman’s flawed nature —central conceptsrnof Kirk’s thought —Person shows howrnthese various, apparently disparate enterprisesrnfit into a coherent intellectualrnwhole.rnPerson considers Kirk to be “one of therngreatest minds this nation has producedrnduring die twentieth eentun-.” Althoughrnhe admits to making “no secret of his admirationrnof him,” “that admiration,” hernadds, “is not uncritical.” Nevertheless,rnthis biography is the portrait of Kirk as hernwould have liked to be remembered.rnPerson does note that, in a quarrel withrnthe Straussians over the Declaration ofrnIndependence, Kirk got his historicalrnfacts wrong. (Despite Kirk’s assertions tornthe contrary, Thomas Jefferson wasrnproud of his authorship of the Declaration.)rnHe regards Kirk’s claim that Lincolnrnwas a conservative as “shaky,” butrnfails to explain sufFiciendy. Having presentedrnKirk’s views on natural law, hernfails to note that Kirk made only tentativernstabs in the direction of classical naturalrnlaw theory. (Rather, he held that moralrnuniversals spring from the imagination —rnnot from reason, as the natural law theoristrnwould hold.) Moreover, Person doesrnnot examine the problems presented byrnKirk’s appeal to tradition. Often, Kirk displayedrnin his thought an ahistorical attachmentrnto the past: Histon,- became forrnhim almost a sacred garden into whichrnnew categories of experience were onlvrnreluetandy admitted.rnDuring the 1950’s and 60’s, Kirk andrnodier conservative thinkers made impressiverncontributions to social and polihcalrnthought. By the I980’s, such mattersrnwere set on the back burner while movementrneonservaties pursued personalrnpower and prestige in Washington. NewtrnGingrich, the Reaganites, and other establishmentrnconservatives were not particularlyrninterested in Kirk because hisrnideas were not perceived as relevant torntheir policy goals. Kirk did not praise thernfree market uncritically; he supported tariffsrnto protect the small farmer; he deploredrnthe ruinous destrucfion of the environmentrnwrought by corporate greedrnand commercial excess. Person cites ap-rnAPRIL 2000/29rnrnrn