Russell Kirk, Priscilla Buckley, Anthony Harrigan: "The Old Conservatives," Part III
"As the prophet of American conservatism, Russell Kirk has taught, nurtured, and inspired a generation. From . . . Piety Hill [Kirk's residence in Mecosta, Michigan], he reached deep into the roots of American values, writing and editing central works of political philosophy. His intellectual contribution has been a profound act of patriotism. I look forward to the future with anticipation that his work will continue to exert a profound influence in the defense of our values and our cherished civilization." -- President Ronald Reagan
For young conservatives in the 1960s and 1970s, the rise of right-leaning books and journals was critical. Earlier, I mentioned Bill Buckley's National Review, founded in 1955. There were other publications around, including the chronically under-achieving Human Events, but most of them dealt with economics, often that associated with the "Austrian School," and featuring people who often had Germanic names (e.g., Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and others).
Milton Friedman played a monumental role in the rise of conservative, market-based economics. He and others gave the lie to the remarkable statement made by President Nixon: "We're all Keynesians now." Nowadays, even economists who are social liberally follow the principles of Friedman relating to the importance of money supply and the criticality of free markets.
A lesser-known free market writer was Anthony Harrigan, first executive director the Southern States Industrial Council, an organization later named the United States Industrial Council (USIC). Based in Nashville, TN and later in Washington, DC, and, when he had his druthers, in Charleston, SC, Harrigan's pro-business columns appeared in many newspapers -- including my ncwspaper the Athens, GA Banner-Herald.
How did Tony Harrigan affect me personally? He did so by asking me to write for USIC, including several articles and a booklet on higher education. He brought me to Nashville to speak with him and his associates.
Later, he financed my way to a meeting of top conservatives (traditionalist, libertariansans, anti-Communists, and others) at the Philadelphia Society, which met not in PA but in Chicago. I recall the libertarians (Reason magazine types) debating the traditionalists (including yours truly) far into the evening.
As a last act of kindness, Harrigan recommended me to U. S. Steel, where I served briefly as a speechwriter. (After a year at "Big Steel," I went "across the street" to Gulf Oil, where I was in charge of all written communications.)
Harrigan was a tough-minded individual, but like so many conservatives of the time, he was also a man of great kindness. He spent a lot of time encouraging the next generation of writers and thinkers.
The same was true of Russell Kirk, author of The Conservative Mind (which I read in college) and 20 other books. I met Russell twice, once when I was teaching in the late 60s at William & Mary and later during the mid-70s in San Antonio, when I had begun working for Phillips Petroleum. In San Antonio, we drank port wine, which I'd never tasted before, and talked about life, literature, and libertarians (who were, in his view, mainly malevolent forces).
In one sense, Professor Kirk lived in the past, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He valued the past because history was so real and alive to him. In a place like Williamsburg, Virginia, along with Charleston among his favorite cities, he confronted the sheer magnitude of the American past -- people like Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and George Wythe. Somehow their modern counterparts, individuals like Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey, and Richard Nixon, seemed to be shrunken figures.
He told me his favorite walk in America was the one starting at William & Mary's Wren Building and going to the end of Duke of Gloucester St. Compared to that setting, much of contemporary life, especially in the urban jungles, seemed nasty, brutish, and perhaps not short enough.
I could write a book about Russell Kirk and hopefully will do so someday. Many years after his death, he's still capable of sparking spirited dialogue among younger conservative. To see that in action, go to the following links, put together by one of Kirk's disciples.
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1766189/posts?page=1 (link to "A Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians by Russell Kirk")
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1764974/posts (link to "10 Conservative Principles by Russell Kirk").
Besides being a major source of conservative ideas, Russell Kirk also played the role of "gentle godfather" in my life as an academic and a writer. He asked me to write several reviews -- and a couple of articles -- for his fine quarterly book review.
Also, when I stood for tenure at the University of Georgia, Kirk served as one of the outside evaulators, writing a strong assessment of me as a writer/scholar. My other evaluators were Mel Bradford of the University of Dallas -- once head of the world's smallest political organization, "Academics for George Wallace" -- and Jim Meriwether of the University of South Carolina.
A third conservative influence was the "godmother" for many writers. That was Priscilla Buckley, Bill's sister, who was impressed (I think) by writing I'd done for Harrigan and Kirk. She got me a National Review press pass that allowed me to interview George H. W. Bush in 1974, the result of which was my first national article, published in NR in 1974.
It's critical for writers, especially young ones, to have outlets that will publish their work. One thing Bill Buckley's efforts led to was the rise of many publications devoted to conservative causes (the Intercollegiate Studies Review being one of the best). I'm convinced Buckley inspired R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. and his colleagues to launch The Alternative, later renamed The American Spectator.
I did many articles for The Alternative/Spectator, getting what Bob Tyrrell called their "top dollar,"magnificentant six cents per word. That was an inducement to write long articles.
The key turn in my career from someone who was a regular reader of the Spectator, William Bowen, an editor at Fortune. In the late summer of 1976, he asked me to write a book review for the publication, and I did so, learning a lot about writing in the process.
Fortune certainly beat Tyrrell's top dollar. In fact, it paid a dollar per word, which turned out to be quite a sum for an academic then making about $12,000 per year. The reviewer who had preceded me was Louis Banks, distinguished professor at Harvard Business School. The one who followed me was Irving Kristol. Some heady company for an Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia.
Without Harrigan, Kirk, (Priscilla) Buckley, and, of course, Tyrrell, there'd have been no Fortune article. There would thus be no "me" as I became. Fortune made me instantly attractive to businesses, and the article was a key reason why Phillips Petroleum hired me as a speechwriter.
I'll continue writing about the "Old Conservatives," but I are coming to realize that my own development also rests on two other factors: one was the influence on me of the Sisters of Mercy in my elementary school, St. Salome's in suburban Rochester. The other the effect of my colleagues at the University of Georgia, especially those influenced by Donald Davidson at Vanderbilt University. Finally, the core of Movement Conservatism is not free market economics alone, important as that is, but rather the Judeo-Christian system of belief and morality. Writing this series has helped to clarify my thinking on this subject. More tomorrow . . .