Category Archives: Republic of Letters

MY FAVORITE 40 (20+20) ALBUMS OF 2020: Everything else!

Last week I put forth my favorite 20 jazz albums of 2020. Here are my favorite 20 albums of everything else: rock, country, prog, and, yes, sacred music.

• “Companion” by Sainte Olympia: I’m biased here, as the singer, pianist, and songwriter here is my younger sister. Regardless, this is the anti-2020 album: contemplative, deceptively simply, deep, and rich with lyrical and melodic mystery. I’m both proud and moved by this release.

• “The Nashville Songbook” by Mandy Barnett: Now in her forties, Barnett’s magical voice has become even more magnificent over time. This lush and often hair-raising record reveals that Barnett is also a top tier interpreter of classic songs. Magical!

• “No One Sings Like You Anymore” by Chris Cornell: This was actually recorded in 2016, not long before his death. Cornell was multi-talented; what comes through here is, of course, that voice–but also a unique approach to interpreting songs, as all ten cuts are covers. ELO’s “Showdown” is a favorite.

•  “Italian Ice” by Nicole Atkins: Speaking of voices, this New Jersey native has one of the finest pop/rock voices around and her music is always compelling. Ranging from atmospheric to anthemic, edgy to heart-breaking, this is perhaps Atkins’ best album, which is saying something.

• “Rise Radiant” by Caligula’s Horse: The talented Aussie prog-rockers never disappoint, as the Jim Grey (singer) and Sam Vallen (lead guitarist)-led unit is dynamic, soulful, restless, and intense. And, as always, featuring perfect production. Hard but melodic prog at its best.

• “La Vita Nuova” by Maria McKee: The former Lone Justice singer is now in her 50s and has made some major changes in her life, but the unreal voice and the stunning writing are still there. In fact, this is her best overall album since 1996’s “Life is Sweet”. Challenging and most rewarding. One of the very best of 2020.

• “The Women Who Raised Me” by Kandace Springs: The incredibly talented Nashville singer and keyboardist (she’s also a mechanic and visual artist) navigates the famous songs here with relaxed confidence and soulful, jazzy verve. Like fine wine. Impressive.

• “En Español” by The Mavericks: It’s entirely in Spanish, but the language barrier (for me, at least) disappears quickly as Raul Malo and Company bring an immediacy and intimacy that cannot be denied. The opening track “La Sitiera” grabs you from the first notes and the album never relents.

• “Nice ‘n’ Easy (2020 Mix)” by Frank Sinatra: Originally released in 1960, this #1 album captured Sinatra at the peak of his powers. The remaster brings a noticeable new clarity and definition, and highlights the many subtle aspects of a classic album. The 2020 release “Reprise Rarities” is also worth seeking out, although the material is not as consistently brilliant.

• “The Absence of Presence” by Kansas: My all-time favorite prog band does it again, following up 2016’s terrific “The Prelude Implicit” with another set of superbly crafted American prog. The longevity and quality of these Midwestern rockers continue to amaze.

• “Through Shaded Woods” by Lunatic Soul: A surprise for me, as the more electronica-oriented LS albums were enjoyable, but this driving, acoustic-based album is a revelation in urgency, mystery, and dusky beauty. Both lovely and a bit unsettling.

• “Color of Noize” by Derrick Hodge:  Pure aural jazz-soul-R&B-electronica candy–but with plenty of musical meat and potatoes. Incredible playing and superb production. This is why headphones were invented.

• “Keaggy, Blazier, & Lunn” (An American Garage Band)” by Phil Keaggy. This was recorded years ago by Keaggy and drummer Bobby Blazier in a jam session, with bass by Gary Lunn dubbed in later. Yet it sounds completely organic and warm, a sophisticated jam session by one of the most eclectic and tasteful guitarists of all time.

• “Monovision” by Ray Lamontagne: I do like some of Lamontagne’s more experimental albums (“Ouroboros”!), but this is the sweet spot for me: the gentle, backwoods vibe that marries Americana and folk with early 1970s Van Morrison. This is fine whisky in musical form.

• “Revisiting This Planet” by Kevin Max: I was never a big Larry Norman fan (his voice bugs me), but Max wins me over with this modern, punchy, and on-point rendering of several Norman songs. Max is true to the music, but also makes the songs his own. Great stuff.

• “Panther” by Pain of Salvation: Daniel Gildenlöw has gone through a lot in recent years (nearly dying in 2017) and so this is a welcome return to full-blown form for the Swedish musician and crew. This is a prog diamond: hard, clear, and multi-faceted, featuring one of the best rock singers out there.

• “Inescapable” by Godsticks: Previous albums were good, but a bit repetitious. Not so here. Vocalist and guitarist Darran Charles has expanded his range, the songwriting is equally expansive, and the band is tight. A deeply personal and powerful album.

• “Fireworker” by Gazpacho: Arguably the most remarkable prog album of year. Huge, intimate, byzantine, beautiful, and never predictable. Those who think prog is about long solos and wonkiness need to listen to this masterpiece. Spellbinding.

• “Terminal Velocity” by John Petrucci: Fantastic instrumental album from Dream Theater legend. Yes, he’s a technical wizard, but Petrucci’s mastery of mood and attitude is at the forefront here. And it’s fun without ever being silly or derivative.

• “Liturgy by Saint John Chrysostom” by Benedict Sheehan: Glorious, glorious, glorious. Enough said. Just listen.

Edmund Burke Against the Antagonist World

Liberty Fund Edition of Reflections.

[Originally published at The Imaginative Conservative]

Should one generation ever consider itself greater than any other generation, past or future, Edmund Burke warned in his magisterial Reflections on the Revolution in France, the entire fabric of a civilization might very well unravel and, ultimately, disintegrate.  Our modern ears have no right to discount Burke’s argument as simple hyperbole.  What takes centuries to build and hone, however, can take moments to undo.  We have witnessed numerous generations since Burke wrote this, and we have seen the arrogance of several, but most especially the Vatican II generation and the so-called “counter-culture” generation of the 1960s.  To this day, we suffer from the arrogance of each.  They each, in the name of toleration, progress, liberalism, and humanitarianism to submit to their teachings blindly.  As one great Canadian and Stoic man of letters argued in the early 1980s, “They shout about love, but when push comes to shove, they fight for things they’re afraid of.” 

Once a generation succeeds in separating itself from past and future, it harms not just civilization but the very dignity of man.  The individual man, unanchored, becomes, Burke noted darkly, “would become little better than the flies of summer.”

[Please scroll down a bit to go to page 2]

I Never Met Russell Kirk

[First published at The Imaginative Conservative}

At the beginning of his Histories, Herodotus notes that a normal person enjoys 26,250 days in his or her life, no day ever exactly like another.  I’m not quite sure I want to count how many days I have left, assuming I could even know such a thing. It’s certainly very wise of the Good Lord not to let us know such things.

Still, as I think about my own days, some wisely spent, others squandered, I have only a few serious regrets.

One of my two most important—at least as it hovers over my being—is that I never actually met Dr. Russell Amos Augustine Kirk in person.  I had the opportunity several times, but I never took advantage of these.  There are lots of reasons why this happened (or, as the case really was, failed to happen), but they really all came down to the same thing—I took too much for granted while in my 20s.  I seemed invulnerable as did those I loved and admired.  As one of my other heroes, Neil Peart, once wrote, “We’re only immortal for a very short time.”  My immortality seemed rather assured as did that of those whom I respected.  Strange considering my own father died when I was only two months old.  Yet, that happened before I was conscious of the world, and the whole story of his death had much more mythical significance than real influence.

Life has a funny way of teaching us each the lessons we so painfully need to learn, and I was rather shocked in the summer of 1994 when I heard that Russell Kirk had passed away.  I was only 26, but I knew I had missed my chance to meet the great man, a man I had studied intensely for about six years at that point. 

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The State of the Disunion, Part 2

Part 2 – An Election with No Winner

(Part 1 can be found here)

Each time we bathe our reactions

In artificial light

Each time we alter the focus

To make the wrong moves seem right

You get so used to deception

You make yourself a nervous wreck

You get so used to surrender

Running back to cover your neck

– Rush, Stick it Out

            The 2020 presidential election is shaping up to be the most contentious election since 1876 or maybe 1824.  Given the timing of this one, coming at a time when Americans are deeply divided as ever, the long term impact could be much, much greater.

            The problem, as nearly everyone living outside of a cave now knows, is that the election is marred by allegations of fraud.  Some want this fraud investigated thoroughly, while a number of others want to just hand wave the allegations away. 

            I’m going to try to avoid using the names of the candidates in this piece, because people’s opinions on the outcome and the disputed areas are largely driven by personalities, and not facts.  Such is the state of our current disunion.  This piece will simply refer to the challenger as Candidate A, while the incumbent will be referred to as Candidate B.  It may be too much to hope, but if a few people can divorce their opinions from the who of the candidates and focus on the facts, they might be a little more open to examining what really transpired.  I’m not optimistic about this proposition, but maybe a few on the margins will open their eyes and their mind.

Irregularities Everywhere:

            In order to believe that the 2020 presidential election was a free and fair election, one must hold some incredibly unlikely beliefs:

            – One must believe that, after trailing badly in four key swing states on election night that stopped counting votes, Candidate A miraculously received enough  votes to pull ahead in those states over the next few days.

            – One must believe in that pulling ahead, the candidate overcame odds that veer    into the realm of statistical impossibility (over one in a quadrillion to the fourth power, by some calculations – less likely than winning the lottery multiple, consecutive times).

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Approaching Weathertop: Anatomy of a Scene

In his personal recollections of his mentor, hero, and friend, George Sayer remembered that J.R.R. Tolkien possessed the uncanny ability to match his facial expressions and speech patterns to and with the prevailing mood of any given conversations.  “As I saw with him and the Lewis brothers in the pub, I remember being fascinated by the expressions on his face, the way they changed to suit what he was saying,” Sayers recollected. “Often he was smiling, genial, or wore a pixy look. A few seconds later he might burst into savage scathing criticism, looking fierce and menacing. Then he might soon again become genial.”[1] It was not affectation, but sincere intensity. The very same might (and should) be claimed of his writing ability. When the mood calls for levity, Tolkien writes with levity. When the mood calls for depth, Tolkien writes with depth. When the mood calls for contemplation, Tolkien writes contemplatively. As a twentieth-century author, he was an absolute master at this.

One can see Tolkien’s skill in the approach to Weathertop, chapter 11 of book one of The Fellowship of the Ring, “A Knife in the Dark.” Having slowly fled the social and near fatal disasters of Bree, September 30, the four hobbits, Bill the Pony, and Strider the Ranger make their way east of the village, en route to the Elvish safe haven of Rivendell. They won’t arrive in Rivendell until late on October 20, but they have no idea of just how long it will take. Dispirited, the party moves anxiously and uneasily, not sure who in the village had betrayed them to the demonic black riders. The same riders—at least four of them—attack Frodo and his party on the evening of October 6.

On October 4, after an agonizing journey through insect-ridden marshes, Frodo and his party spot Weathertop for the first time. Strider advises a roundabout route, thus approaching Weathertop from the north, a path better hidden from the spies of the enemies. On October 5, the hobbits feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep. “There was a frost in the air, and the sky was a pale clear blue,” Tolkien writes.[2] As the party nears Weathertop, they find themselves on “an undulating ridge, often rising almost to a thousand feet, and here and there falling again to low clefts or passes.” The last looks and leads into the east, seemingly endless in vista, and the party views “what looked to be the remains of green-grown walls and dikes, and in the clefts there stood the ruins of old works of stone.”

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A Year of Prog: A Reflection on 2020

I’m typing this as my oldest daughter is driving the CRV across I80 in Illinois. Sadly, I must recognize as I fly at terrifyingly lovely speeds across the state, my title is more a wish than a fulfillment. Much of what follows is merely what is stuck in my brain, and I don’t have my CDs in front of me.

Though a vaccine is coming, COVID is still taking its toll on the world. Never before in peacetime have Americans so willingly complied with rules and regulations and group proddings and peer pressure. Perhaps all of the conformism was necessary for health reasons, but it was still conformism.

Despite all of this, though, and despite all the unrest and tragedies of 2020, progressive rock remained. It remained as a reminder of what is good, true, and beautiful in this world, and it remained as a reality of creativity and non-conformity. Granted, prog musicians couldn’t play live (not really), but they could develop, hone, make, assemble, and innovate. Innovate they did!

Because of the limitations of my situation, I might very well forget a CD, and the following order is as they come into my brain, not as they are ranked in my heart and soul. That is, unless I state something like “yeah, this was my favorite.”

First, Dave Bandanna, Robin Armstrong, a whole host of excellent musicians, and I released a cd under the band and title, The Bardic Depths, on Robin’s label, Gravity Dream. While I recognize it’s outrageously obnoxious for me to rank my own music, it would be equally disingenuous of me to ignore it. I had intimate knowledge on this one, and I’m incredibly proud of what we produced. While I won’t go so far as to rank my CD in actual ranking terms, I will state, I loved the whole process and the end result. Here’s hoping you did as well.

Leaving aside The Bardic Depths. . .

Lunatic Soul, THROUGH SHADED WOODS. Holy schnikees, what a great and compelling listen. While there’s a folky feel to the album, there’s something immediately and permanently captivating about the album as a whole. To get the album right, you just have to imagine mid-period Jethro Tull playing Riverside’s WASTELAND.

Grumblewood. Admittedly, as I sit here in the speeding car, I can’t for the life of me remember the title of the album. I can see it in my mind’s eye, though. Brown and woodsy looking! The album—which is also folk prog—sounds quite a bit like a relatively updated early-Jethro Tull and Blodwyn Pig. The textures of the music are simply gorgeous.

Big Big Train, EMPIRE. Come on, what would a year-end list look like without a BBT entry! Plus, throw in SUMMER’S LEASE as well as the music BBT has released through its Passenger’s Club, and it’s been a verifiable utopia for us music lovers throughout 2020. BBT seems incapable of a misstep, and has been on such a course since 2009. Even the diminishment of the band’s size only makes the future all the more intriguing. As I’ve written before, Ave, Spawton!

Gazpacho, FIREWORKER. Gnostic rock! Does any band come up with more intriguing gothic themes of mystery and universal mayhem than does Gazpacho? This album, especially, feels as though the band has tapped into a Lovecraftian mystery cult. The music, though, is fluid and lush.

Sanguine Hum, A TRACE OF MEMORY. This might very well be the band’s best album, and given their catalogue, this is no where near slight praise. From the opening to the final note, the listener is captivated and immersed in a melacholic, nuanced, and beautiful world.

Glass Hammer, DREAMING CITY. As with BBT above, what list could possibly exist without at least one GH entry! The band never ceases to grow, to develop, and, yes, to progress. While this album is quite a bit heavier than any previous release, the story is a driving one, and the music captures the lyrical themes rather perfectly. The band also just released A MATTER OF TIME—reworkings of older songs. I’ve not had a chance to immerse myself in this album, but I plan to do so when I take back over the wheel of the car.

I have more albums to list, and I will come back to these informal rankings shortly. For now, let me also write: 2020 would never have been as good without the beautiful writings of two of the best reviewers in the prog world: Stephen Humphries and Jerry Ewing. I thank the Good Lord for each of them.

COVID, Woke Science—and Death – American Greatness

More ominously, we still have no idea whether far more have died due to the lockdowns than to the virus itself—given the quarantines have caused greater familial, spousal, and substance abuse, suicides, impoverishment, missed surgeries and medical procedures, educational deprivation, and long-term psychological damage. Amid this void of knowledge, state and local officials have often claimed expertise and implemented Draconian measures that may well have made things far worse.
— Read on amgreatness.com/2020/12/20/covid-woke-science-and-death/

COVID, Woke Science—and Death – American Greatness

More ominously, we still have no idea whether far more have died due to the lockdowns than to the virus itself—given the quarantines have caused greater familial, spousal, and substance abuse, suicides, impoverishment, missed surgeries and medical procedures, educational deprivation, and long-term psychological damage. Amid this void of knowledge, state and local officials have often claimed expertise and implemented Draconian measures that may well have made things far worse.
— Read on amgreatness.com/2020/12/20/covid-woke-science-and-death/

Glass Hammer News

Greetings fans and friends of Glass Hammer,

Glass Hammer’s A MATTER OF TIME Volume I Download is available now, only at the Glass Hammer Store.  We’re offering 2496 Hi-Res WAV, CD Quality, and MP3 versions, depending on your preference. I personally recommend the 2496 version for the best possible sound.
What fans are telling us: 
“The whole album “A Matter of Time” is filled with sonic delights – highly recommended!”
“The recording, mix, mastering and production is some of your best I’ve ever heard on a Glass Hammer album.”
“Love the new versions, production is impeccable as the usual GH standard”



Includes:

  1. Lliusion 8:57
  2. Shadows Of The Past 2:46
  3. Something’s Coming 3:25
  4. Song Of The Dunadan 8:34
  5. The Return Of The King 6:41
  6. Domain Walls 4:43
  7. Felix The Cat 2:31
  8. The Mayor Of Longview 5:21
  9. On To Evermore 6:22
  10. Junkyard Angels 9:11
  11. Heaven 8:17

Grabbing A MATTER OF TIME is a great way to show your support and help Glass Hammer move forward with our new projects. Other downloads that are only available at our site: The Ultimate Middle Earth Download, Lex Rex Remastered, Chronomonaut (Hi-Res), Ode To Echo (Hi-Res), The Inconsolable Secret Remastered Tracks (Hi-Res), Breaking Of The World (Hi-Res), Perilous (Hi-Res) and many, many more!

Head to The Glass Hammer Store and grab one of our fantastic downloads. You’ll get a wetransfer link within 24 hours, (usually much faster!). 

Thanks,
Steve

Kirk and the Libertarians

To be fair, though, Kirk never attempted to ally with or to placate the libertarians in any way, especially after the mid-1950s.  They became nothing but “chirping sectaries.”[2]  Kirk presented his arguments against libertarianism in a fashion at once detailed and scholarly as well as vindictive and savage.  Nothing raised Kirk’s ire, especially after the 1950s, more than did libertarianism and its adherents.  Still, it must be noted that Kirk wrote little about the topic, he also spoke little to his students about it, and he maintained friendships with several persons openly tolerant of and even enthusiastic regarding it, such as Peter Stanlis and Larry Reed.[3]  He softened his critiques by distinguishing the “doctrinaire” from one who “believes in an enduring moral order, the Constitution of the United States, free enterprise, and old American ways of life.”  The latter, he argued, simply had an “imperfect understanding” of politics and were quite well-intentioned.[4]  “With them I have little quarrel,” though they, through their confusion, give strength to the genuinely mad libertarians, Kirk lamented.[5]  In each of his blatant criticisms of libertarianism, Kirk also listed what he shared with them, in terms of kinship.  As with Kirk, the libertarians “try to exert some check upon the vainglorious foreign policy of the United States” and they attempt to fight inhumanity in economics as well as in politics.[6]  The best libertarians become conservatives, Kirk hoped, or they introduced the young to good ideas.[7]

The matter of libertarianism, however, seems to have been intensely personal in his mind.  That is, Kirk willingly separated those libertarians he liked from those he despised.  To Kirk, men such as Stanlis and Reed could be wonderful, as they enjoyed a friendship.  Kirk himself had happily labeled Randolph of Roanoke an “aristocratic libertarian,” and he greatly admired J.R.R. Tolkien who identified his own politics as “anarchy (philosophically understood)” and Christopher Dawson, who grew more fearful of an unwieldy Leviathan with each passing year.[8]  Men such as Frank Meyer and Murray Rothbard, however, were loathsome to Kirk.  “One may say of them in general that they are ‘philosophical’ anarchists in bourgeois dress.”[9]  To Kirk’s mind, little if anything separated the utilitarian libertarian from the wanton libertine, and John Stuart Mill and Murray Rothbard epitomized the movement.  “Since Mill, the libertarians have forgotten nothing and learned nothing,” he wrote.[10]  Like the devil, he continued, the libertarian “can bear no authority temporal or spiritual,” and embraces, often, “sexual eccentricity.”[11]  Further, the doctrinaire libertarian is “metaphysically mad.”[12]  And, perhaps, most cuttingly, betraying prejudices at several levels, Kirk wrote, “The representative libertarian of this decade is humorless, intolerant, self-righteous, badly schooled, and dull.  At least the old-fangled Russian anarchist was bold, lively, and knew which sex he belonged to.”[13]  Hardly dangerous to society, though, Kirk concluded, most libertarians are “repellent merely.”[14] 

Frank S. Meyer, the fountainhead of “fusionism”—an attempt to reconcile traditionalism with libertarianism—fired the first salvo in a continuing war against Kirk with a questioning piece in 1953 in the American Mercury and a bitter piece in The Freeman, 1955.  The earlier piece attempted to assess The Conservative Mind in what the ex-Communist Meyer considered the dialectic of western history, the struggle between tradition or conservatism and individual liberty or “what used to be called liberalism.”[15]  While one might find much to appreciate in The Conservative Mind, the reader would also suffer aggravation as “he restricts his survey to one line of conservative thinking,” while dismissing the importance of Thomas Jefferson, Herbert Spencer, and Lord Acton.  In the end, Meyer thought, the reader could profit more from Kirk’s history than from his understanding of modern American society and its myriad of problems.[16]

Two years later, in 1955, Meyer’s editor at The Freeman, Frank Chodorov asked his writer to explore the “New Conservatism” as a movement dangerous to the libertarian cause.[17]  Entitled “Collectivism Re-baptized,” Meyer viciously attacked the “New Conservatism” as best represented by Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, Program for Conservatives, and Academic Freedom.  These appeared, successively, “in descending order of quality,” he claimed.  Led by the would-be “prophet,” Kirk—with Peter Viereck, Robert Nisbet, and Walter Lippmann merely tagging along—the “new conservatism” embraced no principles but only a “tone” and “an attitude.”  Search as much as one might, Meyer explained, he would find no “clear and distinct principle” regarding the “field of human action—the area of ethics, politics, and economics” in Kirk’s writings.  Instead, Kirk seemed to have embraced a somewhat shallow “High Anglican Christianity,” the Platonic republic “with the philosopher-king replaced by the squire or the vicar.”  The Michiganian embraced and promoted such words as authority, order, community, duty, and obedience as fetishes, neglecting freedom, Meyer continued.  In the end, Kirk’s books, published between 1953 and 1955, served as little more than “another guise for the collectivist spirit of the age.”[18] 

One early and prominent supporter of post-war conservative causes lambasted Meyer in a personal letter to Chodorov. 

We are the great conservative mass of citizens who have been dwelling in cyclone shelters for the past twenty years.  We see in Dr. Kirk the most articulate, believable, and historically most unassailable of those opposed to the welfare state.  Now . . . those who might be easily in Mr. Kirk’s camp, and he perhaps in theirs, are about to tear him apart because of some egotistical difference of opinion. . . . These splinter writers if allowed to carry on will wreck us.  Conservatism needs a structure and a home.  My concept of a home is a place which may not be so orderly but is secure and comfortable, and gives us a feeling of pride in its impregnability. . . .  Mr. Meyer and his colleagues . . . are encouraged to dynamite the home of the conservatives.[19]

In a letter to the editorial page, Needles wrote: “Meyer’s sickening attack on Russell Kirk will give much comfort and propaganda material to the statists.  I am quite sure that it will be quoted widely as evidence that conservatism is really Toryism, selfish and greedy.”  Interestingly, of the four letters The Freeman printed in response to the Meyer’s piece, three were overwhelmingly negative, while only one offered some praise of his article.[20]  Equally important, T.S. Eliot, Wilhelm Röpke, and Erik Kuehnelt-Leddihn each sent a letter of congratulations to Kirk for “being attacked by the Freeman.”  Prominent Americans such as Felix Morley, Frederick Wilhelmsen, and Richard Weaver also offered Kirk their appreciation.[21]  Clearly, a rift was becoming visible not only to the players but to the spectators as well.

According to Kevin Smant, Meyer’s biographer, Meyer felt no remorse in his views, but he did about expressing them as loudly as he had.  His response, however, was to create his own conservative platform, explicitly outlining what would become known as “fusionism,” a mixing of traditionalism with libertarianism.[22]  He soon received a Volker Grant to do just this.[23]  “There is a concerted effort to denigrate Russell Amos Kirk, which you have detected,” Kirk wrote to Bill Buckley in 1956. 

The gang with whom your pal Frank Meyer is associated seems to be most active in the fell enterprise.  There are wheels within wheels; and boring from within has not ceased to be.  Meyer has obtained a subsidy from the Volker Fund for the express purpose of undermining the influence of one Russell Kirk; and you gave him some additional cash for that worthy cause.[24]

Buckley responded, but this was the first diplomatic effort to bring the two together that would, eventually, tire him.  “I think that about one half of such diplomatic talents as I dispose of were regularly exhausted in editing a magazine that regularly published both Frank Meyer and Russell Kirk,” he admitted years later.[25]  First, he claimed via mail, Kirk just being paranoid.  Second, though, Meyer would not use the Volker money, as well as the Buckley money, to attack Kirk.  Rather, he desired to come up with a form of conservatism that incorporated but also that attempted to transcend Kirk’s ideas.[26]  Whatever motives existed in the funding of the project, Meyer eventually did, of course, both things. 

Needles also contacted Kirk, letting him know about his letter to Chodorov as well as making a contribution to the yet-to-be-born Modern Age.  Kirk revealed much in his response, casting Meyer as a typical American progressive, desiring 100% Americanism:

That silly piece by Frank Meyer in the FREEMAN is part of a curious conspiracy by Chodorov, Meyer, and certain other atheists and pacifists and anarchists—insane conjunction!—to cast your servant into limbo.  I was forwarned [sic].  These gentry will injure only themselves, of course.  Meyer is a neurotic little ferret-like creature, with the glittering eyes of fanaticism, who goes about telling everyone that he USED to be a Communist.  “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”  I don’t know whether his conversion preceded the Smith Act.  He sees himself as the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of 100% Americanism, conducting heroic purges.[27]

Kirk assumed Chodorov was targeting Modern Age more than Kirk, but he was uncertain.  His information, he said, came from someone working at the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education.[28]  Most likely, this was Kirk’s long-time friend, Ed Opitz. Kirk further believed that Meyer had not read The Conservative Mind, but had merely gleaned ideas regarding it from various reviews of the book.  Equally telling, Kirk believed that Chodorov had inappropriately and unjustly claimed the mantle of Albert Jay Nock.  He, Kirk, had as much right to claim the mantle as Chodorov and perhaps more, given Kirk’s close friendship with Nock’s best friend, Bernard Iddings Bell.[29]  When the Needles letter, in part, appeared in the September 1955 issue of The Freeman, Kirk wrote, “I see that a part of your first letter was printed at last.  I am told that both the FREEMAN and HUMAN EVENTS are overwhelmed with letters of protest.”  Now convinced that many libertarians represented only a fanatical sect, attempting to bolster their egos rather than the common good of the movement, Kirk concluded his comments with, “The Supreme Soviet of Libertarianism is shaken.[30]”  To William F. Buckley’s father, Kirk noted with some irony, that while he expected attacks from the liberals, he did not imagine them coming from his allies.  “It is amusing, while waging such battles on the frontier at my own expense,” he stated, “to be knifed in the back by such chairborne condottieri as Frank Meyer and Frank Chodorov.”[31]  Not without importance, William F. Buckley, Jr., recruited Frank S. Meyer to become an editor of his new National Review from its opening issue.  Meyer, along with Chodorov, “will take up their stilettos against the National [Review], once any opinion appears therein which deviates in the least degree from the Holy Writ of Cobden and Bright,” Kirk warned Buckley.[32] 

Like Kirk, Meyer rarely visited the New York offices, preferring to write from his home in Woodstock, New York, where he also homeschooled his sons.  Meyer also feared that coming to New York City might expose him to many KGB operatives, who still wanted him dead for his earlier betrayal of that cause.[33]  Priscilla Buckley, one of Bill’s sisters, thought this providential and healthy for all involved.

It was considered a lucky thing that Frank was ensconced at Woodstock, at a safe distance from New York.  He was difficult to work with in person.  Like the good ex-Communist that he was Frank could go on for hours, pacing up and down, chain-smoking cigarettes, willing to talk into the wee hours to make any point, no matter how minor.  The rest of us, with a magazine to get out every week . . . just didn’t have the time to listen, or the energy to fight every point, or the inclination to make high drama of any given point.  His visits to New York were few.[34]

Another person connected to National Review, Whittaker Chambers, who had thought highly of Kirk’s The Conservative Mind in 1953, now saw the division between Kirk and Meyer as an irrelevancy in the larger tides and movements of history.  “I have almost nothing in common with the effort of Meyer or Kirk, whose rationales, no matter how formally logical, seem to me, by contrast with teetotal reality, chiefly an irrelevant buzz.”[35]  Sadly, Chambers viewed the two men “silhouetted in a death struggle against the door to which I had left the key,” children wrestling over the love of a father.[36]  They were, he thought, as Cain and Abel must have seemed to Adam and Eve.  That only six years earlier Chambers had challenged Kirk so vigorously speaks volumes about the divisions in the movement against encroaching conformism in state, education, and corporation.

A year later, in 1956, Meyer again went after Kirk, this time for his views on John Stuart Mill.  In fairness, Kirk had written this article to spite Meyer.  “It serves, by the way, to answer Meyer, who, as a quarter-educated man, simply doesn’t understand what I’m writing about,” he wrote when submitting the piece to Buckley.[37]  Kirk, as detailed in chapter four of this biography, feared the utilitarianism of Mill’s liberalism.  Invited by Buckley to respond to the piece, Meyer claimed that his opponent had, strangely, attacked Mill by placing another Brit of the same century, James Fitzjames Stephen as the former’s better.[38]  In particular, Kirk “appears to select for praise those ideas which Stephen’s imagination dress from the Romantic pagan-Teutonic mystique of folk, community, force, and power.”  Each of these, he continued, led to the “nightmares of the twentieth century.”[39]  In his own autobiography, Kirk allowed that Meyer might have thought him a “Trojan horse within the conservative camp.”[40]

In their personal correspondence, the two were quite civil, if somewhat distant, with one another.[41]  In one letter, however, Meyer reached out in a kind of peace offering: “however much we may differ from time to time in our view of some of the problems of conservatism, I think we share a firm respect for quality and excellence.”[42]  Meyer even invited Kirk to contribute to an edited work, What is Conservatism?, and the latter accepted.[43]  By 1962, two full years before What is Conservatism? appeared, Meyer even inserted a footnote in his book, In Defense of Freedom, that read:

In the last year or two, however, in a number of his contributions to periodicals, there has been observable some weakening in his intransigent New Conservative position and some sign of a greater sympathy with the position of the American conservative consensus on individual freedom.[44]

Whatever tempering this represented, Meyer still began his book with “Collectivism Rebaptized,” making it clear that his nemesis remained Kirk.

In his private correspondence, Meyer also offered mixed views about Kirk.  This becomes especially obvious in his correspondence with even more radical libertarians such as Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and a famous journalist and author in her own right.[45]  She had also been close, at one time, with Albert Jay Nock and Isabel Paterson. 

Just now, I am wary of ‘conservative’ because of the Metternich-Burke movement represented by Kirk and Viereck, among other, who call their views ‘conservative.’  They are really opportunists with lip-service to traditional[ism], as Metternich and Burke were.[46]

From Lane’s perspective, Kirk had perverted one of the most important words in American history, “revolution” by connecting it almost exclusively to the French Revolution, thus diminishing the American.  Further, she considered Kirk not only the “damndest [sic] kind of black reactionary,” he also represented one of the single most dangerous threats to the American character and to western liberty.[47]  Kirk, she continued, along with Buckley, represented the true “enemies of freedom and of all human values.”  She and Meyer, she claimed, offered true revolution.  “A person who acts to defend . . . their innate, inalienable liberty, cannot ‘conserve’ the status quo.”  Instead, she continued, “he must change it, he must abolish much of it.  He is an abolitionist, a radical, a revolutionist.”[48]  Kirk misunderstood the past, believing communism something new.  In reality, she believed, almost all of history had been communist with most of the great thinkers of history conserving such communism.  Only the Americans had broken from this.  With no real grounding in history, she concluded, Kirk could only look up to God and embrace a false mysticism.[49]  In response, Meyer actually defended Kirk, at least in a relative sense.

Kirk has thought deeply but is wrong-headed and one-sided.  You may have seen my reviews of both of these worthies [Kirk’s CONSERVATIVE MIND and a book by Viereck] in the Mercury but you may not have, and being lazy, rather than repeat here I am send you clippings of what I said.  I was perhaps a little kinder to Mr. Kirk than I should have been if I were writing a more detailed and scholarly critique.  He is particularly weak when he discusses the contemporary situation. . . . It seems to me that a great deal of what Kirk and his supporters say is based on a confusion of the relation of individual men to God and to each other in the realm of Love with particular forms of social organization—with which dogmatically, at least, the Church has no intrinsic connection.[50]

When the Volker Fund asked Meyer his opinion of Kirk and his efforts to raise money for Modern Age, Meyer recommended against him.[51] 

While Kirk did not respond immediately, when he finally did answer Meyer, nine years later, he tore him apart.  Indeed, his review of Meyer’s book, In Defense of Freedom, serves as Kirk’s apotheosis of vitrolicity.  “The reader begins to tire after the first chapter,” he wrote.  Taking his former Marxism and mutating it into an ideology, “Meyer now transfers his political passion to conservatism (of sorts)—which he would erect into an ideology, slogans and dogmas.  He burns to purge this new true faith of deviationists, to create a disciplined sect of the faithful, to become the law and all the prophets to young persons marching to Zion.”  Never having overcome his former attachment to Marx, Meyer paints his own antagonists with too broad of a brush, incapable of nuance.  After denying that he belonged to anything called the “new conservatives” or that such a group even existed, Kirk argued that Meyer would make a goddess of liberty, an abstraction to be worshipped, but leading to the anarchy found in parts of then-modern Africa.  Even in an era of political religions, Kirk sighed, Meyer “can appeal to little but to the arrogant ego.  With this last,” he concluded, “he is plentifully equipped.”[52]  Never before or after, would Kirk savage something so brutally in print.  Tellingly, Kirk only mentioned Meyer twice in his autobiography, and with almost no context or explanation of the man other than that he was a zealot, whether on the left or the right.  If Meyer thought his debate with Kirk important, Kirk did not, at least over the long run.  Others, though, have.  Critically important figures such as Whittaker Chambers viewed it as the beginning of an ending of what had started so well, only a few short years earlier. 


NOTES

            [1] A personal note.  When I told a friend of mine, a prominent member of the libertarian movement for decades now and an Ivy League graduate, that I’d been named the “Russell Amos Kirk Chair” at Hillsdale, he gave me a sad look and said, “He was really an evil man.”

            [2] RAK, “Libertarians: Chirping Sectaries,” Modern Age 25 (Fall 1981): 345-51; and RAK, “A Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians,” originally delivered at the Heritage Foundation and later reprinted in The Politics of Prudence (Bryn Mawr, PA: ISI Books, 1993), 156-171.  See also RAK, “Professors and Politics,” National Review 28 (May 14, 1976).

            [3] In his vast corpus of writings, RAK only openly engaged libertarians in two pieces.  One of RAK’s students, Alan Cornett, has confirmed that RAK said little regarding the subject to his students.  Alan Cornett to Birzer, November 22, 2013, personal correspondence.

            [4] RAK, “Chirping Sectaries,” 278.

            [5] RAK, “A Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians,” in Redeeming the Time, 157.

            [6] RAK, “A Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians,” in Redeeming the Time, 157-158.

            [7] RAK, “A Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians,” in Redeeming the Time, 157-159.

            [8] On Tolkien’s anarchism, see JRRT to Christopher Tolkien, November 29, 1943, in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), 63.  On Dawson’s move toward such a position, especially after 1935, see Birzer, Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson (2007).

            [9] RAK, “Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians,” in Redeeming the Time, 160.

            [10] RAK, “Chirping Sectarians,” 275.  On libertinism, see RAK, “Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians,” in Redeeming the Time, 162.  Rothbard and RAK reconciled, at least in part, by 1993, as each put aside differences to advise Pat Buchanan on a possible second run for the presidency.  Their fear of a neoconservative foreign policy allowed each to overcome their mutual distrust.  See Paul E. Gottfried, Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2009), 170.

            [11] RAK, “Chirping Sectarians,” 275.

            [12] RAK, “Chirping Sectarians,” 279.

            [13] RAK, “A Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians,” in Redeeming the Time, 165.

            [14] RAK, “A Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians,” in Redeeming the Time, 165.

            [15] On his communism, see his insightful and revealing, The Moulding of Communists: The Training of the Communist Cadre (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1961).

            [16] Frank Meyer, “Conservatism and Individualism,” American Mercury (July 1953): 140-141.

            [17] Kevin J. Smant, Principles and Heresies, 32.

            [18] Frank S. Meyer, “Collectivism Rebaptized,” The Freeman (July 1955), 559-562.

            [19] Robert Needles, M.D., to Frank Chodorov, July 8, 1955, quoted in Smant, Principles and Heresies, 33.

            [20] In the “Readers Also Write” column, The Freeman: A Monthly for Libertarians 5 (September 1955): 632.

            [21] RAK to WFB, September 1, 1955, in RKCCR.

            [22] Smant, Principles and Heresies, 32ff.

            [23] See WFB to RAK, April 6, 1956, in RKCCR.

            [24] RAK to WFB, April 2, 1956, in RKCCR.

            [25] WFB, Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography (Washington D.C., Regnery, 2004), 288.

            [26] See WFB to RAK, April 6, 1956, in RKCCR.

            [27] RAK to Dr. Needles, July 13, 1955, in RKCCR.

            [28] RAK to Dr. Needles, July 13, 1955, in RKCCR.  RAK helped Opitz with a small group called “The Remnant,” sponsored by the Foundation for Economic Education in New York.  As RAK described it, it was “an informal association of clergymen who believe that the primary concern of the church is the ordering of souls, rather than the ordering of the state.”  See RAK, “A Few Clergymen Seem to Prefer Soapbox to Pulpit,” TTP, Ada Evening News (May 31, 1965), 4.

            [29] RAK to Dr. Robert Needles, July 21, 1955, in RKCCR.

            [30] RAK to Robert Needles, September 1, 1955, in RKCCR.

            [31] RAK to Bill Buckley’s father, July 13, 1955, in RKCCR.  In the same letter, he claimed, “I never have called myself a New Conservative, and no one ever has called me that to my face.”

            [32] RAK to WFB, September 1, 1955, in RKCCR.  By 1959, RAK’s views on Chodorov had softened somewhat, giving him guarded praise for his book, The Rise and Fall of Society, the most Nockian of his books.  RAK offered this caution, though: “Nock had nothing of the utopian in him: but Chodorov does, tho [sic] he is less utopian in this book than in some of his earlier writings.  The Chodorov utopia is society without he state, a condition in which men enjoy the benefits of voluntary community without political authority over them.”  See RAK, “Salvos Against Collectivism,” Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine of Books (April 26, 1959), 2.

            [33] Priscilla Buckley, Living It Up at National Review: A Memoir, 187.

            [34] Priscilla Buckley to Kevin J. Smant, August 26, 1993, in Smant, Principles and Heresies, 60-61.

            [35] Whittaker Chambers to WFB, Jr., Christmas Eve 1958, in Odyssey of a Friend, 229.

            [36] Whittaker Chambers to WFB, Jr., May 7, 1959, in Odyssey of a Friend, 247.

            [37] RAK to WFB, October 5, 1955, in RKCCR.

            [38] WFB to RAK, February 13, 1956, in RKCCR.

            [39] Meyer, “In Defense of John Stuart Mill,” reprinted in In Defense of Freedom, 165.

            [40] RAK, Sword, 150.

            [41] See the few letters in the RAK-Meyer Correspondence, in RKCCR.  George Nash has put the relationship in fine perspective.  See Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1976), especially chapters 5 and 6.

            [42] Frank S. Meyer to Dr. RAK, August 5, 1959, in RKCCR.

            [43] RAK, “Prescription, Authority, and Ordered Freedom,” in Frank S. Meyer, ed., What is Conservatism? (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964), 23-40.

            [44] Meyer, In Defense of Freedom (1996 version), 59fn12.

            [45] Rose Wilder was born in 1886 on the homestead of her famous parents, Laura and Almanzo Wilder, near De Smet, Dakota Territory.  She worked as a journalist at several papers, including the Kansas City Post as well as the leftist San Francisco Bulletin.  After a visit to the Soviet Union in 1921, though, Lane renounced her leftist leanings, declaring: “I came out of the Soviet Union no longer a communist, because I believed in personal freedom.”  She published her most famous book, The Discovery of Freedom, a wide-sweeping examination of the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian tradition of liberty, in 1943.  In addition to the Discovery of Freedom, she wrote Henry Fords Own Story (1917); The Making of Herbert Hoover (1920); The Peaks of Shala (1924); Hill Billy (1926) ; Cindy (1928) ; Let the Hurricane Roar (1933) ; Old Home Town (1935); Give Me Liberty (1936); and Free Land (1938).  She also wrote numerous articles and short stories for Harpers, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ladies’ Home Journal.  Throughout her adult life, Rose remained an anti-statist, natural rights advocate.  “The revolutionary basis (of this country) is recognition of the fact that human rights are natural rights,” she wrote, “born in every human being with his life, and inseparable from his life; not rights and freedoms that can be granted by any power on earth.”   In the 1960s, Rose covered the Vietnam conflict for the Ladies’ Home Journal.  She died in 1968 in Danbury, Connecticut, as she was about to embark on a world tour.

            [46] Rose Wilder Lane, Danbury, Conn., to Frank S. Meyer, 6 October 1953, Box 9, Folder 119, in Rose Wilder Lane Papers, Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa.  Hereafter, HPL.

            [47] Rose Wilder Lane, Danbury, Conn., to Frank S. Meyer, 28 January 1954, Box 9, Folder 120, in HPL.

            [48] Lane to Meyer, September 18, 1956, Box 9, Folder 120, in HPL.

            [49] See, also, Lane to Joan Clark, July 11, 1958, Box 2, Folder 19, in HPL; and Lane to Clark, March 11, 1960, in Box 2, Folder 19, in HPL.

            [50] Meyer to Lane, October 10, 1953, Box 9, Folder 119, in HPL.

            [51] Lane to Meyer, January 28, 1954, Box 9, Folder 119, in HPL.

            [52] RAK, “An Ideologue of Liberty,” Sewanee Review 72 (April-June 1964): 349-350.