The Unbought Grace of Life–Russell Kirk

“I mean by the phrase “the unbought grace of life” those intricate and subtle and delicate elements in the culture of the mind and in the constitution of society which are produced by a continuing tradition of prescriptive establishments, reflective leisure, and political order. I mean also the sense of duty, the feeling of honor, the concept of ordination and subordination, and the adherence to the classical definition of justice which grow out of the spirit of a gentleman. I mean all those super added ideas furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination. I mean the wife of imagination, harmony and generosity which sometimes flourishes in those societies commonly called “aristocratic.” More than this, I can hardly express lucidly, except by describing particular examples of this high grace, the meaning of “the unbought grace of life.” I do not say that this complex of sentiments and traditions, which Burke calls the spirit of a gentleman, is the only pillar of civilization. As Burke himself declares, the spirit of religion is the other great source and support of our social establishments and our culture. But the spirit of religion still retains many able defenders, and the spirit of a gentleman has few; therefore I am confining my remarks here to the unbought grace of life, as distinguished from that elevation of spirit which is the effect of religious belief. I do not think that the on bot grace of life, or the spirit of a gentleman, could subsist indefinitely without the animating power of religion; but, with Burke, I do not think that religious establishments, as we have known them for 1000 years and more, could endure along in a society which had discarded the last traces of the unbought grace of life.… Where ever the unbought grace of life withers, the church as a living force is much diminished, if not extirpated; and were ever religious establishments are broken or derided, the spirit of the gentleman has short shrift.”

–Russell Amos Kirk, “The Unbought Grace of Life,” Northern Review 7 (October-November 1954): 9-22.

One thought on “The Unbought Grace of Life–Russell Kirk”

  1. George Will, the “amiable atheist” is critical of Kirk especially his faith traditions. in his new book. Will comment more once I finish. However, my first impression is that Will makes a false god of Madison and makes an idol of the Constitution.


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