Disappearing America

America's British Culture by the late Russell Kirk offers a clear, insightful explication of key British elements in American culture, as well as an important critique of the current cultural climate in America. Kirk examines four major British contributions that have particularly shaped American culture: language and a common body of literature; rule of law and the common law tradition; representative government; and ethical heritage—moral habits, conventions, customs, and the like. In an appendix he addresses the aspects of classical philosophy which, mostly transmitted through Great Britain, also continue to affect American mores and political modes of thinking.

Kirk stresses the importance of the King James translation of the Bible after 1611 in America and other works that exerted formulative influence on the Colonies. He shows that much more than abandonment of words and books is involved in the modern refusal to study the classics in favor of more "functional," scientific, or politically correct fare. Indeed, since the body of English literature from Chaucer to Melville contains an operative set of cultural values largely independent of religion, discarding great literature involves the loss of the heroic values that animate it. To the extent that both religion and secular heroic values decline, American culture and civilization decline with them.

In terms of legal tradition, the considered...

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