Tag Archives: conservatism

Real Community: Hutchinson and Longmont

A years ago, while on a panel with that extraordinary radio personality, Mike Church, and a few folks from another website, I think I caused a bit of a stir by arguing that a real man’s existence was about protecting one’s family from the world, conserving what little order could be found in the family against the shattering disorders of the modern and post-modern abyss.  

While I’ve always favored a republic and have been a republican as far back as I can remember, my republic would be a Harringtonian one of extremely well-armed small families and associations of friends and like-minded persons.  In my Harringtonian vision, admittedly somewhat idyllic and medieval, communities would come together for cultural celebrations, book festivals, commerce, and a celebration of the sacraments.  

It would also, to my mind, uphold the essence of the American founding as understood through the Northwest Ordinance.  

And, in the just preservation of rights and property, it is understood and declared, that no law ought ever to be made, or have force in the said territory, that shall, in any manner whatever, interfere with or affect private contracts or engagements, bona fide, and without fraud, previously formed. 

While I very much agree with our own John Willson that no “founding” ever existed, only foundings, I would not look askance at any one who claimed the above, taken from Article III of the profound 1787 law, serves as the “mission statement” of the founding of this republic.  For those of us who love ordered liberty, we might speak in terms of commerce and business, but the right to associate applies as much to families, churches, and schools as it does businesses.  If we do not have the right to form a family as we chose, the right to open a business means nothing.  The right of association is all-encompassing.  We have the right to form families, businesses, universities, and, even, websites dedicated to Russell Kirk’s vision of the good, the true, and the beautiful.

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Why I Went to CU: An Interview

An interview with Clint Talbott, Summer 2014.

Why did you choose a life in academe?

Two of the finest persons I knew as a child were my maternal grandfather and mother, both teachers. One Saturday, my grandfather decided to take me to the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in his hometown of Hays, Kansas.  He was always incredibly dignified.  As we drove onto the campus of Fort Hays State, he saw a parking spot reserved for “Professor” somebody.  He looked at me with his typical mischievous eye, and said, “Bradley, today, I think I’ll be a professor.”  Whatever reason, I knew that a professor was somebody of importance (who, after all, could be wiser than my grandfather?), and the idea stuck with me throughout all of my schooling.  I also had the great fortune of having a number of amazing teachers and professors, from grade-school Dominican nuns to some of the best lecturers and thinkers imaginable at the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University.

How would you characterize the state of political discourse in the United States today?

Terrible.  Absolutely terrible.  But I must admit, I write this as a 46-year old jaded romantic who once would have given much of his life to one of the two major political parties.  

Political discourse as of 2014 comes down to two things 1) loudness and 2) meaningless nothings.  Oration is a dead art, and the news from CNN, Fox, and other outlets is just superficial talking points with some anger and show.  Radio is just as bad, if not worse.  As one noted journalist, Virginia Postrel, has argued, we probably shouldn’t take anything that someone such as Ann Coulter says with any real concern, as she “a performance artist/comedian, not a serious commentator.”  

Two examples, I think, help illustrate this.  Look at any speech delivered by almost any prominent American from 1774 to 1870 or so.  The speeches are rhetorically complicated, the vocabulary immense, and the expectations of a well-informed audience high.  To compare the speech of a 1830s member of Congress with one—perhaps even the best—in 2014 is simply gut-wrenchingly embarrassing.

Another example.  The authors of the Constitution expected us to discuss the most serious matters with the utmost gravity.  Nothing should possess more gravitas in a republic than the issue of war.  Yet, as Americans, we have not engaged in a properly constitutional debate on the meaning of war since the close of World War II.  We’ve seen massive protests, some fine songs, and a lot of bumper stickers, but no meaningful dialogue.

As a humanist, I crave answers for this, and I desire a return to true—not ideological—debate and conversation.  Academia has much to offer the larger political world in this.

If you were asked to summarize what you hope to accomplish during your year as visiting scholar, what would you say?

I have dedicated my own academic career to the study of two things: 1) the human person as a unique manifestation of universal truths in a culturally- and temporally-specific setting; and 2) the humanities as best understood through the classics of western (and, at times, world) civilization.

CU is already rich in all of this, but I hope to add to that richness and to benefit from the same.  No community can survive without a conversation with those of the present, those of the past, and those who are to come. 

The Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at CU-Boulder was created because of a perceived imbalance of perspectives among faculty; do you see this as an issue that should be addressed, and, if so, how should it best be addressed?

Though I grew up (in Kansas) vacationing in Boulder and the Boulder area, I have only been a part of the campus community on the day I came for the interviews.  Of course, I had a brilliant time.  Regardless, I don’t really know what the state of discourse is on CU’s campus.  I plan on being involved in as many discussions as possible, and I also plan on sharing those discussions with non-Coloradans through the website, The Imaginative Conservative (imaginativeconservative.org).  

And, of course, it’s an absolute privilege to be invited to be an additional voice in such a vibrant intellectual community of scholars as that in Boulder.  My voice, I hope, though will be that of Brad Birzer who happens to have strong conservative and libertarian leanings rather than as a libertarian or conservative who happens to be named Brad Birzer.

And, as much as I appreciate a relatively recent historical figure such as Barry Goldwater, I still much prefer Cicero and Virgil.

How do you view the value of higher education today, particularly given its rising cost and rising student-loan burden?

This is a terribly difficult problem, and, from what little I know of economics, so much has changed over the past fifty years due to strange incentives in funding, etc.  But, we also continue to specialize and specialize in our professions and disciplines to the point we can no longer talk across the self-imposed barriers.  A person might gain from this, but a society and the persons that make up that society do not.

I’m rather a devoted patriot of and for liberal education.  From Socrates forward, the goal of a liberal education has been to “liberate” the human person from the everyday details of this world and the tyranny of the moment.  Our citizenship, as liberally-educated persons, belongs to the eternal Cosmopolis, not to D.C. or London or. . . .

College-level education must return to the fundamentals of the liberal tradition.  Interestingly, this is the least expensive way to teach and to be educated.  The best education involves a professor, a group of students, a primary text, and three hours a week in discussion.

Given how readily available the texts of the greats have become through the liberation and decentralization of publishing through the internet, the complete writings of Plato are within reach of anyone with access to the web.

Real education does not have to be expensive.

This is in no way meant to discount professional education.  Training for engineering, law, the sciences, etc. is vital for a functioning and healthy world and happy citizenry.  

But, in our own titillation with what we can create, we often forget what came before and what will need to be passed on in terms of ethics and wisdom.  The best lawyer, the best engineer, the best chemist, will be a better person for knowing the great ideas of the past: the ethics of Socrates; the sacrifice of Perpetua; and the genius of Augustine.

Getting to Know Russell Kirk (2015)

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.  

My own upbringing in a Goldwater household was rather ecumenical, at least toward things of imagination and what might generally be called of or on “the right.”  I never had a leftist/liberal phase, as liberals, right or wrong, always struck me as somewhat totalitarian in views as well as personality.  As a child and young man encouraged by my mom, I read everything I could get my hands on, and Kirk was just as important in the big scheme of things as, say, Hayek was.  I wasn’t desirous of being only an Austrian or only a paleo or a libertarian or whatever the divisions were in those days.  I just wanted to read everything that seemed interesting.

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This was a book–roughly 82,000 words–I wrote over Christmas break, 2002-2003, and then revised four times between 2003 and 2008. I wrote it in between writing the biographies of J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Dawson as a way to understand Christian Humanism. I wanted to know its scope as well as its limits, hoping to find something to move well beyond the simple and deceptive left-right spectrum.

Here’s the opening to the original version:

The nineteenth century witnessed the flourishing of progressivist thought in social relations, politics, religion, and biology.  Everything was evolving, or so it seemed, toward the better.  Smiles were more frequent, and lives just kept getting happier, as the citizens of the world were becoming one, homogenized, contented mass.  The blessings of modernity entangled everything, East to West, claiming that no more perfect offerings needed to be made.  Once properly educated and the childhood superstitions of the race outgrown, the prophets of modernity assured us, the masses collectively would speak as a god.  In a word, according to intellectuals such as Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, it would soon be “utopian.” 

It was a lie.  

Modernity was a trap, and we were its greatest victims.  We failed to resist, and it greedily fed on us.  In democratic regimes, the brightly colored and candy-coated machines of bureaucracy and large corporations mechanized us, making us far less than human.  In non-democratic regimes, the damage proved much worse, nearly irreparable.  Beginning with the assassination of a relatively minor figure by an equally obscure terrorist group in 1914, the twentieth century drowned in its vast killing fields, gulags, holocaust camps, trench warfare, and weapons of mass destruction.  Whether in the camps of the European or Asian ideologues, some humans, convinced of the righteousness of their cause, viewed all other human persons as nothing more than a collection of parts, ready to be dismembered and reassembled in a Picasso-esque fashion, or perhaps simply quartered and then quartered again.  Armed with the ideological doctrines of fascism, National Socialism, and Communism, the twentieth-century became a century of the inverted vision of Ezekiel: wheels within wheels, endlessly spinning, the abyss ever expanding, ever within reach.  All that was sacred became irrelevant.  All who remained relevant were shot.  And, the State and its faithful companion, War, demanded the sacrifice of much blood to the restored gods.  Demos, Mars, and Leviathan became ascendant, taking possession of the field, and claiming victory, their appetites insatiable.

And, the Logos wept.

If you’re interested, here’s the link to the amazon Kindle version ($4.99). If you’re interested in a copy to review for a print or online publication, please let us know through the contact button.

Thanks! And, enjoy.

Our New e-press: Spirit of cecilia books

I am extremely proud to announce and launch our ebook publishing concern, SPIRIT OF CECILIA Books.  As with the website, St. Cecilia is our patron, and we will be publishing several books a year–dealing with art, culture, film, biography, science fiction, music, etc.

Our inaugural book, Reflections on Reflections: A Close Reading of Edmund Burke, is now available at amazon.com as a Kindle version.  We will soon be releasing it in other e-book formats.  The price is $2.99.  Please support us with your purchase.

The Catholic Worker on Leviathan

Dorothy Day (from CRISIS Magazine)

“People go to Washington asking the Federal Government to solve their economics problems.  But the Federal Government was never meant to solve men’s economic problems.  Thomas Jefferson says, ‘The less government there is the better it is.’  If the less government there is the better it is, the best kind of government is self-government.  If the best kind of government is self-government, then the best kind of organization is self-organization.  When the organizers try to organize the unorganized, they often do it for the benefit of the organizers.”

The Catholic Worker (Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin)  Quoted in Maisie Ward, Unfinished Business (Sheed and Ward, 1964), 176,



Yep, it’s Black Friday. And, for this deal, you not only DON’T have to leave your home, but you’ll ALSO get lots and lots of nutrition for the mind!  

Right now, Tom is offering a Master membership to Liberty Classroom for only $287.

If you use the link below and purchase a LC Master membership, I (Brad) will happily and eagerly and joyfully send you a signed copy of IN DEFENSE OF ANDREW JACKSON as well as RUSSELL KIRK: AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE as my gift.


After you’ve purchased your membership with the link, let me know, and I’ll send the books to you.  Make sure to let me how you want them inscribed.  

To Tom! To Liberty! To Classrooms of the mind!