THE LAST PATRICIAN by Michael Knox Beran


Bobby Kennedy and the End of American Aristocracy
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A thoughtful effort to claim Bobby Kennedy for the conservative, but not necessarily right-wing, cause. In a combination of intellectual biography and moral/cultural analysis, first-time author Beran considers Kennedy as —the first post-Enlightenment American statesman,— a politician for whom public service was far more than a rhetorical device. An inheritor of the practical if unreflective politics of Harry Stimson and his Groton-educated peers, Kennedy, writes Beran, exhibited all the arrogance of his privileged class, lording it as a young man over servants and government employees. It was not until reaching middle age that Kennedy shed some of this arrogance; a moment of transformation, Beran writes in a fascinating aside, came when Mrs. Paul Mellon loaned Kennedy a copy of Edith Hamilton’s book The Greek Way, which inspired him to take an Athenian view of public service—a view that meant betraying some of the aspirations of his family. Beran takes an unabashedly moralistic view of politics, examining key terms like ’self-reliance— and the self-confidence that makes it possible; he considers Bobby Kennedy as a nearly Christ-like figure who walked among the poor as if wearing a hair shirt, who washed the feet of the suffering; he even finds room for a kind word for patriarch Joseph Kennedy, whom he deems a cunning but compassionate man. In all of this, Beran is utterly convincing, and he reminds us how much we lost when Bobby Kennedy fell to an assassin’s bullet 30 years ago. He is slightly less convincing when he enlists Kennedy in the neoconservative movement, Beran’s idea of which is more English than American, but he is correct in pointing out that —dissent is not the exclusive property of the left— and that it makes more sense to liken Kennedy to John Ruskin than to Che Guevara. Timed to coincide with the anniversary of RFK’s death, this is a fitting, substantial tribute to a great man. (History Book Club selection)

Pub Date: May 26th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18625-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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