Burke, Kirk, & Scruton: A Conservative Legacy for the 21st Century


Russell Kirk (Left) Edmund Burke (Center) Roger Scruton (Right)

Legends, a description often given to myth like characters to impart a quintessential ethos concerning their respectability; Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and Roger Scruton are not myths but living souls who reserve legendary status in way of their writings and actions concerning conservatism.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) can only be regarded as the Father of Modern Conservatism; an Irishman whose testimony against the French Revolution became the standard bulwark against sudden, revolutionary rather than evolutionary change. Prior to Burke there are philosophical and political thinkers since ancient times that conservatives consider as great minds of conservatism including Plato, Cicero, and Adam Smith. Yet Burke is reasonably the source by which a clear movement out of the Enlightenment sprung forth called conservatism. Controversially Burke showed favor, at least privately, toward the American Revolution because in his mind the Americans were seeking more than “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” that the French Revolution squandered through means of a gut wrenching bloodbath, godless laws, and uprooting centuries of tradition without any consideration of its effects. These Americans however still had respect for the laws and traditions of Great Britain while tout à fait différent due to distance and time in a far away land. Nevertheless, Burke taught us the necessity of respecting our institutions even when those institutions may require reform. Hardly blind to injustice, Burke grasped the nature of human needs and wants including our ugly side; a side often ignored when it comes to personal desires over the common good requirements to maintaining political stability, law, and order. With that in mind Burke reminds us of the need to move steadily when making great social changes, something the French failed to do.

Burke taught us the necessity of respecting our institutions even when those institutions may require reform.

Russell Kirk (1918-1994) was a man of class. Kirk grasped the good life by eventually placing it on the rock of the Christian faith and eternal moral truths. Described as a “Stoic Pagan,” he consumed Roman and Greek philosophy to the point of taking Stoicism as a central tenet of being. Ancient thinkers had spoken, Kirk was there to listen. However, Kirk slowly converted from quasi-protestantism and unchristian spiritualism toward a christian humanism and finally Catholicism after decades of studying, pondering, and a willingness to surrender his own presuppositions. St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas would eventually share his mind, heart, and soul as much as Irving Babbitt, Marcus Aurelius, or F.A. Hayek. Preposterous to some Kirk’s grasp of the real inheritance of conservative thought would shine brightest in his Magnum Opus, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana (1953) (by its third edition Santayana was replaced with Eliot). A book that re-sparked an intelligent, compassionate, imaginative, and moral conservatism; a true conservatism beyond the left versus right politics that presently distorts modern hearts and corrupts modern minds found deep within modern cultures. Never afraid to espouse the vitality of ideas when properly rooted in principles and in God, Kirk was a man of mystery and awe fighting tooth and nail for what was seen by many as his quirks including a distrust of technology or that conservatism was not an ideology rather its anthesis. Kirk established that history, philosophy, literature, and religion hold greater deference than mere economics and dumbed down politics that modernity has wrought. We are to be a people of sacrifice, committed to a greater good, proclaimers of faith, and protectors of private property as laid out in his Ten Principles of Conservatism. Sir Roger once described Russell Kirk as “the last word or a court of appeal against which all the quarrels of his disciples would be finally settled.” A remark that grasps Kirk’s immense influence toward the imaginative, transcendent, and romantic mind that conservatism brings to the world.

Kirk established that history, philosophy, literature, and religion hold greater deference than mere economics and dumbed down politics that modernity has wrought.

Sir Roger Scruton (1944-2020) If Burke is the Father of Conservatism; Kirk the Father of Imaginative Conservatism; Sir Roger is the Father of Living Conservatism. Scrutonian conservatism, a philosophy as a way of being, never ignored reality as it confronted society with a higher culture in mind. Roger unabashedly grounded conservative thinking. Sir Roger realized that ignorance of the present will doom the future if conservatives remain only in the clouds. Sex, law, wine, politics, food, aesthetics, religion, music, nature… all hold value for upholders of tradition. These are not simply consumer products but a prescribed essence to the good life. Life described by Scruton requires Oikophilia, a devout love and duty to the family, locality, and nation by which you are a member, a rejection to misplaced multiculturalism but hardly a disrespect to all cultures. Cultures are to be respected in their context, learning beyond our own world but still holding dear to your tribe. Combined, life is a symphony by which we find its quintessential notes to taste, pluck, and appreciate at their highest existence while humbly submitting ourselves to the good, the beautiful, and the true. Scrutonianism equips by delicately grappling issues seemingly thought far and wide yet are practical in every way. Practicality is the centrality of a Living Conservatism, it not only demands a good head but one well planted on the ground. Sir Roger never let his readers forget it. He portrayed the sacred amongst the living while carrying it to its highest experiences such as music or art or the aesthetics of a Cathedral. An Anglican who loved his England and its Church, Roger lived what he professed as a farmer who believed in environmental protections, an active dissenter of Communism in Czechoslovakia, and a housing advisor for England. To profess yet never to live out what you profess is as the Disciple James warns in the Holy Scriptures, faith without works is dead (James 2:17). A capital reminder for all conservatives.

Sir Roger realized that ignorance of the present will doom the future if conservatives remain only in the clouds. Sex, law, wine, politics, food, aesthetics, religion, music, nature… all hold value for upholders of tradition.

Altogether the future holds bright for conservatism when linking together a respect for the past, the present, and the transcendent; a trifecta built on integrity versus a lesser sensibility. This is the conservative legacy for the 21st century.


About Edmund Burke. https://kirkcenter.org/edmund-burke-society/edmund-burke/

Burke and the American Revolution. https://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/burke-and-the-american-revolution

Did Edmund Burke Support the American Revolution? https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/03/edmund-burke-support-american-revolution-bradley-birzer.html

Edmund Burke & the American Revolution: The Whole Story. https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/04/edmund-burke-and-the-american-revolution-the-whole-story.html

Oikophilia. https://hac.bard.edu/amor-mundi/oikophilia-2020-01-29

Religion and the Conservative Mind. https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/12/religion-conservative-mind-dermot-quinn.html

Roger Scruton. A Brief History Of A Great Man. https://northamanglican.com/roger-scruton-my-encounter-with-a-great-man/

Roger Scruton’s Architectural Morality. https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/roger-scrutons-architectural-morality/

Roger Scruton – On Russel Kirk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHTmJlRsaOY&ab_channel=ConservatismArchive

Roger Scruton Was a Giant of Conservatism. https://www.heritage.org/conservatism/commentary/roger-scruton-was-giant-conservatism?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIiO2b1szr6wIVAdvACh0RQgadEAAYASAAEgIyUvD_BwE

Roger Scruton Was a Conservative. But What Kind? https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/29/opinion/roger-scruton.html

Russell Kirk: Conservative, Convert, Catholic. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/10/19/russell-kirk-conservative-convert-catholic/

Russell Kirk: Christian Humanism and Conservatism. https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2018/01/russell-kirk-christian-humanism-and-conservatism-vigen-guroian.html

Russell Kirk: Conservative, Humanist, Christian. https://blog.acton.org/archives/83039-russell-kirk-conservative-humanist-christian.html

Russell Kirk Expounds on Being Catholic. https://www.ncregister.com/features/russell-kirk-expounds-on-being-catholic

Russell Kirk on Higher Education. https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2020/01/russell-kirk-on-higher-education/

Scrutonian philosophy as a way of life. https://www.thearticle.com/scrutonian-philosophy-as-a-way-of-life

Ten Conservative Principles. https://kirkcenter.org/conservatism/ten-conservative-principles/

The Conservative Mind of Russell Kirk. https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/the-conservative-mind-russell-kirk

The Forgotten Father of American Conservatism. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/russell-kirk-father-american-conservatism/573433/

The ‘great adventure’ of Sir Roger Scruton, RIP. https://blog.acton.org/archives/114123-great-adventure-sir-roger-scruton-rip.html?utm_term=roger%20scruton%20philosopher&utm_campaign=5+Facts+-+Educational+Evergreen&utm_source=adwords&utm_medium=ppc&hsa_acc=9098040689&hsa_cam=6526563754&hsa_grp=91366174524&hsa_ad=411597365231&hsa_src=g&hsa_tgt=kwd-363370490599&hsa_kw=roger%20scruton%20philosopher&hsa_mt=b&hsa_net=adwords&hsa_ver=3&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIkOSum-7x6wIVzsDACh28pgL2EAAYAiAAEgL-t_D_BwE

The Moral Imagination. https://kirkcenter.org/imagination/the-moral-imagination/

The Promises and Perils of Christian Politics. https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/05/russell-kirk-promises-and-perils-of-christian-politics.html

The Radicalism Of Russell Kirk. https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-radicalism-of-russell-kirk/

The Six Core Beliefs of Conservatism. https://isi.org/intercollegiate-review/the-six-core-beliefs-of-conservatism/

When is a revolution not a revolution? Edmund Burke and the New America. https://blog.oup.com/2016/12/edmund-burke-new-america/