ISI Seminar at Piety Hill–Russell Kirk, William Bentley Ball, Judge Brevard Hand

Russell Kirk has written widely about moral issues and the rule of law. One example is this essay in Imprimis, from Hillsdale Colege. Kirk not only wrote, but he often testified, too, before legislative bodies and even in courts as an expert witness. During his work to preserve our culture he encountered attorney William Bentley Ball and senior U.S. District Judge Brevard Hand. Judge Hand had summoned Russell in his deliberations during the trial against the Mobile schools and their use of textbooks. One story can be found here in the New York Times. Judge Hand found agains he school district. In the end, Judge Hand was overturned at the Federal Circuit level.

In 1992 Russell invited Judge Hand and Mr. Ball to come to a seminar at Piety Hill. At issue was the concept of church and state, the First Amendment, and secular humanism as a religion. After all, this trio worked mightily against what Russell called “the Leviathan State” in its attempts to force secularism in schools. There are plenty of comments among the three about what happened during their efforts and the likely results.


The films are presented in order.

I well remember this seminar. Russell was in his very best form, very happy to introduce these men to the ISI participants and those few select others of us who were invited to be there. The Russell Kirk you see in this few films is often jolly, lighthearted even though the topic is very serious. That’s something most people didn’t have the opportunity to encounter–Russell’s great good humor–not because it was rare (he was always polite and most often very cheerful) but I think because they didn’t expect it in such an eminent historian. Russell most often had a ready smile for anyone who came his way. And almost all ISI participants were offered trip down the old sand road or canoe rides and dunkings on the Little Muskegon.

That was the thing: Russell truly enjoyed young people and did so very much to help them. They didn’t have to agree with him about politics or historical interpretations. He took people as he found them and didn’t find it necessary to change them; he knew that given good intellectual food they would come to their own wise understanding. He–with Burke–attested the rising generation. And he took the time to work with generations of visiting students and assistants. I had the great good fortune to number among both of those. And there have been so many others. Each of us took away some cocepts that became essential to us. And we left ideas there, too. Russell welcomed them.

Regarding the video: I had just taken delivery of the Sony camera and was learning on the job. I see some things that might have been better to do, but that’s always the case. For instance, we do not have all of Mr. Ball’s question and answer. I realized that when I listened, too, to the audio recording of the event. Yes, that also was occurring. My then-fiance, Kathy, was holding down the audio desk. (I have audio from almost a decade’s worth of seminars. All of it needs to be digitized.) Too, at times the light was very, very low, something video cameras didn’t handle well.