University Press of Kentucky biography, “Russell Kirk: American Conservative” by historian Bradley J. Birzer has been named a finalist for the Henry and Anne Paolucci Book Award given by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. ISI is a non-profit educational organization devoted to the promotion of conservative thought on college campuses. It was founded in 1953 by Frank Chodorov, with William F. Buckley Jr. as its first president. The award honors the book that best advances conservative principles.
Emerging from two decades of the Great Depression and the New Deal and facing the rise of radical ideologies abroad, the American Right seemed beaten, broken, and adrift in the early 1950s. Although conservative luminaries such as Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin all published important works at this time, none of their writings would match the influence of Russell Kirk’s 1953 masterpiece “The Conservative Mind.” This seminal book became the intellectual touchstone for a reinvigorated movement and began a sea change in Americans’ attitudes toward traditionalism.
In “Russell Kirk,” Birzer investigates the life and work of the man known as the founder of postwar conservatism in America. Drawing on papers and diaries that have only recently become available to the public, Birzer presents a thorough exploration of Kirk’s intellectual roots and development. The first to examine the theorist’s prolific writings on literature and culture, this magisterial study illuminates Kirk’s lasting influence on figures such as T. S. Eliot, William F. Buckley Jr., and Senator Barry Goldwater—who persuaded a reluctant Kirk to participate in his campaign for the presidency in 1964.
The winner of the Paolucci Book Award will be announced in August and will receive a $5,000 cash prize. The winner will also give a talk about the book at ISI’s awards dinner in Philadelphia on Saturday, October 1. C-SPAN’s “Book TV” has broadcast the Paolucci winner’s talk each of the past ten years and plans to do so again this year.
Bradley J. Birzer is Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies and professor of history at Hillsdale College. He is also the second Visiting Scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy, University of Colorado–Boulder. He is the author of “American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll” and “Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson.”