Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Russell Kirk's 'Conservative' Coalition & Presbyterian Theology

The question wether conservatism is compatible with the ideas of the founders of the Republic is directly related to presbyterian theology is my contention. Anthony Bradley tweeted recently 
Cornel West/Robbie George attacked by the most arrogant student ever, then rightly slammed. @ -37mins.

The question wether Robert P. George's 'conservative' views can be reconciled with Evangelical theology is at the heart of this discussion. Is the coalition around Chuck Colson and Robert P. George undermining or building on the legacy of people like Samuel Davies and Samuel Finley? I have already formed my opinion on the legacy of these two men and how their influence stretched across America. Bill Dennison's writings indicate that these questions are hotly debated among American evangelicals today. Dennison's debating 2K's, neocalvinism & natural law here, is at the heart of this debate.

Now let's look at this question from the other end. Let's start with Russell Kirk and his American friends and work back to the civil war. Once I have connected both sides we will be able to see how conservatism fits into the larger narrative of American history since the revolution and presbyterian theology in general.

In a 1957 article 'the essence of conservatism' Russell Kirk claims 'The system of ideas opposed to liberalism and radicalism is the conservative political philosophy'. Bradley J. Birzer wrote last year 'Russell Kirk adored a wide assortment of thinkers and artists and enjoyed serious friendships with most of them: Robert Nisbet, Flannery O’Connor, Eric Voegelin, Leo Strauss, and Ray Bradbury.' Russell Kirk wrote his dissertation on Randolph Of Roanoke, mentor of Slave Power leader Calhound, and labeled it 'a study in conservative thought.' This dissertation mentions Charles Sydnor as one of the people who made suggestions for this dissertation  who previously served as professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College. The educational background of this man, a son of a presbyterian minister, might give us more information on how his reading of American influenced Russell Kirk.
We read there that Charles Sydnor (who's chosen interest was English and medieval history!) was appointed in the newly created position as professor of history and political science at Hamden Sydney College: 'Sydney was deeply committed to its elitist Presbyterian heritage, its ideals for liberal education, and its determination to educate properly the embryonic leaders of the future South.' In 1925 he quit. Ten years later Francis Schaeffer graduated from this same elitist college.

At the University of Mississippi under President Albert Hume, a Presbyterian elder 'of conservative temperament' (whatever that means), Charles Sydnor became chair of the history department. In 1933 Charles Sydnor published a textbook on Slavery in Mississippi which buttressed the racist positions of confederate history societies.

In a piece on Lincoln Russell Kirk claimed 'the Northern, which practically was the New England intellect'. This reminds of the South's railing against 'yankee textbooks'. Especially this last clame betrays his attempt to rewrite history. Both Abraham Lincoln's background, linked to that of Kentucky abolitionist John Finley Crowe's Hanover seminary in Indiana, and his speech at Gettysburg, which is directly linked to Princeton and the Lutheran abolitionist movement are sufficient to show that Russell Kirk's claim is false. Add to that the evangelical exodus from the South.

Darryl Hart confirms most of what I write above, stating for example:
'evangelicals are starry-eyed activists masquerading as thoughtful conservatives'
Not surprising and not a bad thing in the context of Presbyterian history.

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