As a new subscriber to Chronicles, I was drawn to Chilton Williamson’s reply to Mr. Patterson in the December issue (“Start Somewhere,” Polemics & Exchanges). He wrote that “ideology by definition is silly.” It made me recall my late Austrian friend, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.
Mr. Williamson may be aware of Erik’s 1981 article, “The Portland Declaration,” published in National Review. Erik told me that Russell Kirk agreed with every point in the piece, but he could not endorse the Declaration because it was an ideology. Curious, I asked, “What is the problem?”
If I may paraphrase Erik’s answer: “Russell Kirk believes that an ideology could take hold of the masses.” Erik said, “Of course, everyone has an ideology, and we can meet any man on the street, and, with cross-questioning, inside 15 minutes we can determine a faint outline of his ideology.”
Myrtle Beach, SC
Mr. Williamson Replies:
I must have missed “The Portland Declaration,” or, more likely, I simply don’t remember the piece.
I met Mr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn on only a few occasions, one of which was NR’s 25th anniversary dinner in 1980 at the Hotel Plaza, when I shared a box and a table overlooking the ballroom with him and several other people.
I sat directly beside him at dinner, and I don’t recall whatever conversation might have occurred between us. I was only in my early 30’s, and, had I been he, I shouldn’t have chosen to sit next to me for a conversational partner. I do remember Bill Rusher introducing me from the podium as “the third Smith Brother,” in recognition of the beard I had recently grown for protection against the subzero temperatures of the Wyoming oilpatch.
As for Russell Kirk and ideology, I believe the word should be used only in its strictest and most accurate sense, to identify an intellectual construct that holds that history is explicable in terms of a secret conceptual key known only to a few adepts and their followers (who proceed, of course, to apply its truth ruthlessly to the rest of us). If one understands ideology in this way, then only ideologues can be said to have an ideology—which, thank God, is not everyone, though it is unfortunately true that most modern people seem to think they have one, and that everyone else does as well.