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Hillsdale College cel­e­brated the 100th anniversary of con­ser­v­ative thinker Russell Kirk’s birth with a series of lec­tures, including one by his wife Annette. Wiki­media Commons

“Every single thing Russell touched became magical,” Annette Kirk said of her husband, the late his­torian and con­ser­v­ative thinker, Russell Kirk.

In a tribute to Russell Kirk’s long-lasting influence on both con­ser­vatism and Hillsdale College, Annette visited Hillsdale and spoke there on Wednesday, along with Alan Cornett, a long-time friend of the Kirks; Pro­fessor of History Brad Birzer, who holds the Russell Kirk Department Chair; and prominent author and scholar Gleaves Whitney.

Since his passing, Annette has carried on her husband’s work, becoming a spokesperson for his thoughts and writings and passing them on to the next gen­er­ation through the Russell Kirk Center.

Even before she met Russell, Annette said she was involved in pol­itics. She was one of the “Gold­water Girls” and fol­lowed former Pres­ident Ronald Reagan’s pres­i­dency closely. After mar­rying Russell, Annette said she “cleared the desk for him so he could do his work.” Cornett said Annette handled the logistics, sched­uling lec­tures at various uni­ver­sities and con­tacting pub­lishers — all while raising four daughters.

“Annette is just as inter­esting as her husband,” Birzer said. “Her legacy is equally as strong.”

Annette Kirk said that Russell never expected to become the face of a new kind of con­ser­vatism. When he wrote “The Con­ser­v­ative Mind,” he did not expect it to do well because “there wasn’t a con­ser­v­ative presence, let alone a mind.” Regardless, he sub­mitted it to his pub­lisher and noted that the book was his “con­tri­bution to the endeavor to con­serve the intel­lectual and spir­itual” facets of con­ser­v­ative thought.

“He gave the movement its name, its identity, its genealogy,” Annette said, recalling a New York Times review of the best-selling book.

She said that what made Russell’s movement dif­ferent than others at the time, was its lit­erary and his­torical tra­dition. Unlike the political and eco­nomic con­ser­v­ative ideas cen­tered in policy, Russell Kirk was con­cerned with culture, but not in regards to social ques­tions.

Rather than focusing on political gain, Russell Kirk was con­cerned with the per­manent things. He was often called sen­ti­mental, Annette said, but he believed a “world without love is hollow.” This, more than any­thing, set Russell apart, she said.

“No matter how people felt about con­ser­v­a­tives, they all liked Russell,” she said.

Birzer said this ded­i­cation to “living what they pro­fessed” struck him the most: “His example of living the Christian life will be most remem­bered.”

Even now, Annette said she wants to “keep Russell above the fray.”

Russell Kirk defined con­ser­vatism as a “dis­po­sition and a way of being, not an ide­ology, ” Annette said. This dis­tin­guishes him from other con­ser­v­ative thinkers, and Cornett said it will make him more important in the days to come.

“With the rise of Trump, there will be a lot of reeval­u­ation,” Cornett said. “And I think they’ll go back to Kirk.”

Russell Kirk is renowned for his work in fiction, as well as in history and phi­losophy. His short stories are just as important and influ­ential as “The Con­ser­v­ative Mind,” Birzer said. These works allowed Russell Kirk to “let his imag­i­nation loose,” which Birzer said is the “ultimate man­i­fes­tation of con­ser­vatism, outside charity.” Imag­i­nation is the expression of the indi­vidual human person and sto­ry­telling is the only way human beings can truly under­stand per­manent truths, Birzer said.

“Kirk isn’t just a con­ser­v­ative, he’s an imag­i­native con­ser­v­ative. And that’s dif­ferent,” Birzer said. “And Kirk would never want anyone to be a Kirkian. There’s no such thing as a Kirkian. There’s only you and who you are as an indi­vidual.”

  • BradinAZ

    It always made for an inter­esting class when Dr. Kirk showed up as a guest lec­turer. It was even more fun if you had the chance to visit his home in Mecosta!