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Ghosts of the Midwest

Russell Kirk’s Moral Imagination

The decline of the Midwest as a cultural force was well under way by the time Russell Kirk was born in Plymouth, Michigan, in 1918.  Yankee influence in the region had largely been replaced by a more vibrant German-American culture, and now the United States, in the midst of the War to End All Wars, was engaged in a war against that culture on the homefront.  The period between 1914 and 1933 would prove crucial.  By the time Kirk entered junior high, he was forced to take a course in civics—“a Deweyite innovation,” as he described it.  Today, of course, conservatives rise up in arms at any attempt to remove civics courses from the public-school curriculum.  But circa 1930, those courses were an important part of the attempts—directed from Washington, D.C., and East Coast academia—to wipe out regional and ethnic differences and to make all citizens generically American.  In the Midwest, those assaults were all too successful.

Kirk continued his education at Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science, known today simply as Michigan State University.  After he received his M.A. in history from Duke University in 1941, he entered the U.S. Army and spent the entire war at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, rising to the rank of staff sergeant in the Chemical Warfare Service.

Between 1946 and 1952, Kirk spent one semester a year teaching history...

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