The Countermarch

East of Eden

Russell Kirk frequently warned those who read his essays and books and attended his lectures not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Even at the most mundane level of everyday life, the Sage of Mecosta offered good advice.  If we spend all of our days dreaming about what might be—let alone what might have been—we’re liable to end up like Miniver Cheevy (or even Richard Cory).  Insisting that everything be perfect is a great way to ensure that your house suffers irreparable water damage from the minor leak in your roof while you try to decide between the six colors and four shapes of architectural shingles that Home Depot has to offer.

But there are greater depths to Dr. Kirk’s advice than the surface level of pragmatism.  His words of wisdom flowed from the same place as his opposition to ideology.  Leo Strauss argued that the classical and Christian worlds had set the bar too high for man to be able to reach it, and his students declared that the genius of the philosophers of the modern era (starting with Machiavelli) can be found in their embrace of a sort of “idealistic realism”—aiming for a standard that’s just high enough to give men something to strive for, but low enough that the goal is actually possible to reach.

As usual, Strauss was wrong, and his students (perhaps deliberately) more so.  The evidence can be found all around...

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