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Enemies of the Permanent Things, by Russell Kirk

A Micro-Review Essay

“[T]ruly central government and true democracy are impossible.”

Did I say The Conservative Mind blew me away? It did, but then I read this book and couldn’t decide which book blew me more. Now, truth told: I didn’t love any of Kirk’s other books, and it makes me sad. If a man writes one great book, he might have gotten lucky. If he writes two great books, he’s a great man. If then he writes a dozen more and a reader doesn’t appreciate most of them, it points to a deficiency in the reader. But it’s not the first time I’ve noted a literary or scholarly deficiency in myself, so I shake it off. Enemies centers on the “norms” of literature and politics. Norms touch the permanent things and the permanent things are what the soul needs. Modern literature and politics scorch the permanent things and thereby scorch the soul. And the soul is beautiful, so the enemies aren’t just foes of the good and true: they’re a jagged knife across the face of beauty. Modern life is ugly. Sure, there’s beauty in it. There has to be, since the world is beautiful. You can’t get rid of beauty anymore than you can get rid of air, so beauty can be found in the most dismal wrecks of our inner cities. But we could have a lot more beauty, if we could just root out the enemies. Problem is, that would require us to root out a chunk of our modernist, crooked hearts. Such a procedure, though necessary, could kill us.