“In the long reach of history, it is the cultural institutions which mark the city of enlightenment, not its generals nor its statesmen nor its entrepreneurs.” So declared Dr. John A. Howard, president of The Ingersoll Foundation and of The Rockford Institute, as he welcomed leading scholars, critics, business executives, and patrons of the arts to the second annual Ingersoll Prizes Awards Banquet. Held on November 16th, 1984, in Chicago’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, the banquet honored Anthony Dymoke Powell as the recipient of the T. S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing and Russell Amos Kirk as the recipient of the Richard M. Weaver Award for Scholarly Letters.
Pastor Richard John Neuhaus, author, theologian, and director of The Rockford Institute’s Centeron Religion & Society in New York, opened the evening with an invocation in which he prayed that The Ingersoll Prizes might be established as “a sign and an encouragement–of a conservatism that contends for all that is of abiding worth; of a liberalism that bespeaks generosity of spirit and hopefulness of purpose; of a radicalism that refuses to settle for anything less than truth.”
Following Pastor Neuhaus’s prayer, Dr. Howard formally greeted those in attendance and outlined the nature of the prizes to be awarded. “The abiding impact of the prizes,” he said, “is, and will continue to be, shaped by the individuals chosen to receive them and by the long influence of their works upon human perceptions, human judgments, and human behavior. That this is so sets these prizes wholly apart from other widely known awards in literature and the humanities.” Further explaining the distinctive nature of The Ingersoll Prizes, Dr. Howard observed that “the notion that true art cannot be an instrument of degradation, that art of eternal value is elevating art, has largely passed from cultural intercourse in America and many other Western nations….It is a notion we seek to revive in the perceptions of literate individuals and above all in the calculus of literary and scholarly criticism.”
Prefacing the presentation of the awards, Mr. Leopold Tyrmand, vice president of The Rockford Institute and executive secretary of The Ingersoll Prizes, delineated the reasonsfor the selection of the honorees:
“It is dear from the impact of his works on his contemporaries that Dr. Kirk has been accorded one of those rare appointments with history which men of thought dream about but are not always granted. Impenetrable are the ways by which a particular mind influences the affairs of a civilized society. Dr. Kirk begins The Conservative Mind, his major work, with a quotation from Coleridge in which he observes that a philosophy survives in the form of its own ‘refractions,’ and that only through them can it touch minds, shape existences, influence societies. In other words, philosophies that affect human lives engender cultural fashions which, in turn, determine their value in the stock exchange of ideas, and regulate their marketability. Thus, the cultural fashions which a philosophy begets become its destiny. Coleridge’s observation is as profound as it is distressing. It somehow leads us to think that liberalism, as we know it nowadays, must be judged not by those noble, 19th-century battles it fought for the meaning of Western civilization, but by its subsequent fashionableness among 20th-century idea producers. Therefore, cultural fashions are not only the consequences of a popular philosophy, they are also its verdict. And this is where both Dr. Kirk and Anthony Powell bring light to us: one by diagnosing the ulcers of vulgarity, cynicism, despair, and viciousness that dominate our awareness of our age, the other by chronicling them.
“In contrast to last year’s selection of two towering intellects essentially remote from one another–this year we have two who, each in his own genre, moves toward the same objective, or pursues analogous inquiries. They both try to excavate some fundamental principle of order from the chaos of existence. Mr. Powell’s vast accomplishment is to illuminate the British variety of human being as a social species, without the bewildering embellishments of philosophy and history. His is the great task of turning style into substance, refracting life’s nature through its reflections in life’s passing detail, transforming into massive statements what his counterparts among 18th century masters of English literature expressed in delicate sketches. Dr. Kirk’s life and oeuvre affirm that the defense of the moral complexities of a Weltanschauung is fundamentally independent from self-interest, or from the so-called class-consciousness–a grotesquely sinister notion that has so harmfully simplified the timeless, unending Judeo-Christian quest for the better man, the better society, the better world.
“Which leads me to a necessary reminder: If in communism that which is rewarded and celebrated is restricted to ideological servility, in our post-industrial democracy public acclaim in the realm of culture has been so thoroughly divorced from actual merit that it has become an independent industry. A revered status for today’s creative and scholarly minds is now contingent upon their idolatry of virtuous egalitarianism and sentimental relativism.With few exceptions, only those expressions which are imbued with the liberal odor of sanctity stand a chance of being warmly extolled by the media, and are easily converted into financial triumph. The elaborate promotions that saturate the fabric of our social and cultural reality turn the celebrated into a celebrity. The delicate device of public recognition thus performs as a barometer of cultural climates and moods, attuned not to the measurement of excellence or enduring cultural worth, but to the caprices of ideological meteorology. The spiritual pettiness that pervades contemporary democratic societies too often results in applauding mere modishness, hailing it as creativity of mind and soul, entrenching a rigid intellectual and artistic conformity.
“Through The Ingersoll Prizes we are committed to higher goals than the celebration of clever expediency or the measurement of sociopolitical temperatures. We believe that the Judeo-Christian civilization which evolved the concepts of monotheism, justice, verifiable truth, mercy, human and civil rights, equality before law, and pluralistic democracy–this civilization is a precious value that deserves constant reaffirmation and loyalty. What we wish to encourage, elevate, advance, is a style of cultural impulse, a style of social sensibility, a style of political thinking that safeguards the successful transmission of the most valuable imponderables from one historical formation to the next. In such striving, both Mr. Powell and Dr. Kirk are precious exemplars. And this is what motivates us to seek out the Kirks and the Powells of our historical moment and honor them.”
Accepting the Eliot Award on behalf of Mr. Powell (who was unable to attend) was Robert Conquest, distinguished poet and scholar of Russian history. Mr. Conquest read an address written for the occasion by Mr. Powell discussing the relationship between the “real person” and fictional characters. In accepting the Weaver Award, Dr. Kirk focused his remarks on the moral influence of literature. Mr. Powell’s acceptance address appears in the January 1985 issue of Chronicles of Culture; Dr. Kirk’s appears in this issue.