James J. Kilpatrick, RIP- the Conservative Literary Path Not Taken….

[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


8 Responses to James J. Kilpatrick, RIP- the Conservative Literary Path Not Taken….

  1. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit August 17, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    Which is not to say he didn’t do some darned fine writing in other areas. It’s just sad that he had a couple of blind spots.

    Which is why I read Jim Bovard’s stuff – since we share the same blind spots, I don’t know what I’m missing and therefore don’t worry about it…. 😀

  2. Jim August 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    And like they taught me when I was learning how to drive, if you can’t see a blind spot, then it can’t hurt you.

  3. Tom Blanton August 17, 2010 at 10:29 pm #

    Kilpatrick was like a rock star to all the right-wingers here in Richmond back in the 60’s and 70’s and all of his writings continued to appear in the News Leader back when I was delivering that paper. Now, most people in Richmond probably have no idea of who he was and many don’t remember the News Leader.

    The News Leader was merely the afternoon version of the morning paper, the Times-Dispatch – both published by Media General on the same presses. It simply wasn’t profitable for Media General to publish twice a day.

    Anyway, I doubt if there will be any schools named after Kilpatrick here as was the case for his old boss, Douglas Southall Freeman.

    His column on writing was pretty good, but I never paid much attention to anything else the old pompous windbag wrote. But, as bad as these old school guys may have been, the current crop of pompous windbags seem retarded.

  4. Jim August 17, 2010 at 10:47 pm #

    Tom, I didn’t know of your links to the News Leader. That was the missing link.

    Kilpatrick at least usually tried to write in ways that readers would understand – as opposed to some subsequent conservative hotshots who prided themselves on pelting readers with words that have not been in common usage since roughly the time of Beowulf. Kirkpatrick was sometimes wrongheaded but he did not strike me as pretentious.

    As for Freeman – there was a helluva author.

  5. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit August 18, 2010 at 9:38 am #


    “See blind Spot.”

    “Well, no, actually he can’t. Which means he doesn’t run too well, either.”

  6. Jim August 18, 2010 at 10:37 am #

    I was never worth a snuff for any distance longer than 220 yards.

  7. Tom Blanton August 18, 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    I talked to several Richmonders between the ages of 30 and 40 about Kilpatrick and the News Leader. None of them knew who he was and only one remembered the News Leader. I’m surprised there has been such little mention locally about Kilpatrick’s death.

    The best thing about the News Leader was that I made enough dough to buy stacks of 45 RPM records and Rolling Stones (when it was on newsprint) delivering that rag. For my money, I was digging Dr. H. S. Thompson’s prose in R.S. far more than anything in the News Leader.

  8. Jim August 18, 2010 at 8:40 pm #

    Geez, I’m surprised how quickly that paper vanished from the local memory.

    Using revenue from the News Leader to pay for Rolling Stone — wouldn’t that make the News Leader an accessory to corrupting a minor??? That is more plausible than many of the terrorist financing/material support cases of recent years.