Obituary: Russell Kirk
Thursday 30 June 1994
RUSSELL KIRK, the American social philosopher, was credited with being singly responsible for the resurgence of conservatism in the United States with his seminal bestseller The Conservative Mind: from Burke to Santayana (1953), sparking the political trend which eventually found its fulfilment in the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
During the same period when the activities of Senator McCarthy were deluding many into thinking he was a bona fide conservative, Kirk argued forcefully that conservatism was a coherent school of thought different from the basic doctrines of anti-Communism, and there must be room for tradition, culture and moral order.
His thesis was revised as The Conservative Mind: from Burke to Eliot in 1960, in conjunction with several more books which expanded on similar themes: A Program for Conservatives (1954), The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Conservatism (1957), Edmund Burke: a genius reconsidered (1967), Eliot and His Age (1971), and many others.
Kirk began a separate part-time career as a master of spectral and Gothic literature while studying for his DLitt at St Andrews University from 1949 to 1952. While temporarily short of funds, he contributed four ghost stories ('Behind the Stumps', 'The Surly Sullen Bell', 'Uncle Isaiah', and 'Old Place of Sorworth') to a new bimonthly, London Mystery Magazine. These tales are now recognised as modern classics.
A much later tale, 'There's a Long, Long Trail a-Winding', brought Kirk the World Fantasy Award for short fiction in 1977. Many connoisseurs of the genre rated him as the sole remaining American fantasist whose ghost stories merit legitimate comparison with the old masters, especially Blackwood, de la Mare and Wharton. Barely two dozen in number, written over a period of nearly 40 years, his ghost stories were collected in three volumes, The Surly Sullen Bell (1962; reissued as Lost Lake, 1964); The Princess of All Lands (1979); and Watchers of the Strait Gate (1984). Old House of Fear (1961), a Gothic novel set in Scotland, ingeniously combined Kirk's two favourite themes: political theory and the supernatural.
Piety Hill, Kirk's ancestral home in Michigan where he lived most of his life, has always been regarded as a benevolently haunted house, most of the ghosts being Kirk's own 19th-century relatives. In recent years he often claimed that this tall Italianate mansion was usually crowded, in addition to its spectres, by refugees from Ethiopia, Vietnam, and elsewhere - not to mention the towering hobo who, as 'Frank Sarsfield', appears in several of his stories.
- 1 Boston Marathon runner's search for mystery man she kissed ends with letter from his wife
- 3 Frankie Boyle on Scottish independence: 'In the Interests of Unity, F**k Off'
- 4 How to gain confidence and maximise your sexual potential
- 5 Chinese theme park sets up 'death simulator' where volunteers can experience being cremated
Saudi Arabia's King Salman sacks senior aide for 'slapping' a journalist behind him live on TV
Boston Marathon runner's search for mystery man she kissed ends with letter from his wife
Frankie Boyle on Scottish independence: 'In the Interests of Unity, F**k Off'
Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
Florida couple forced to register as sex offenders for having sex on public beach
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...
£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...