[updated at the bottom]James J. Kilpatrick passed away yesterday at the age of 89.
In his prime, and in his top notch writing, he was one of the best conservative stylists of the late 20th century. He gracefully combined earthiness and erudition to connect with Americans far and wide. When William F. Buckley passed away two years ago, pundits and obituary writers gushed over Buckley’s exquisite style. Kilpatrick’s style was far more potent and probably far more effective.
Kilpatrick’s The Writer’s Art was a fount of excellent ideas on style, and his The Foxes Union is one of the most vivid portrayals of the good life in rural Virginia.
There were plenty of issues on which I vigorously disagreed with him on, and I will make no excuse or defense for his championing of “Massive Resistance” in Virginia in the late 1950s. (The Washington Post obituary notes that he began his journalism career at the Richmond News Leader, where he championed the cause of a black shoeshine boy wrongfully convicted of shooting a policeman. Kilpatrick’s efforts led to a pardon).
But there were some issues on which he stunned me. When I was doing the research for Lost Rights in the early 1990s, Kilpatrick was one of the few conservatives who understood and treasured the Fourth Amendment. He vigorously opposed permitting government to conduct unreasonable, warrantless searches and he recognized how this profoundly changed the relation of State & Citizen. (I think that is a fair characterization of his position – my memory is dusty here). There were other issues on which Kilpatrick avoided the cravenness that too often characterized Washington pundits, both left and right, in recent decades.
UPDATE: LawHobbit* kindly sent me the following link on Kilpatrick’s horrible position on the Second Amendment. Geez, I never expected that he would be so wrongheaded on such a fundamental issue.
* A.K.A. Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit