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ISI

The case for conservatism rests on the reality of vibrant, interdependent social communities that precede and supersede government. The conservative movement makes its most humane case for limited government when it chooses to paint a picture of a healthy network of friends, families, and neighbors instead of shouting “tyranny” and “communist” at those who support a progressive tax structure. As more and more conservative intellectuals lend their considerable talents to holding out this alternative way of life through enchanting description, their written efforts rely on American conservatives creating and thriving in the kind of communities they highlight. In this sense, the most important task for most conservatives is the active participation in and perpetuation of healthy social lives for themselves and their acquaintances. The best written defenses of this type of lifestyle will contain examples of charity and support provided by neighbors.

One organization that provides this type of community is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. As a community of faculty and scholars, ISI offers conferences, academic resources, and a tight-knit community of respectable conservatives that beleaguered students can rely on when they are accused of naiveté toward the way the world works. The same goes for faculty, often isolated in their intellectual commitments at our nation’s universities. Students are emboldened and encouraged by the vibrant debate of ideas and intellectual honesty that takes place when ISI members discuss culture and government. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute provides this intellectual community by bringing speakers to campuses, encouraging reading groups at universities, and flying select students and faculty to conferences full of reading and debate.

One especially important population that is woefully unfamiliar with robust community life is today’s college students and young adults. For young adults that have flirted with conservatism, ISI breathes new life into their oft-used rebuttals against radically liberal classmates and friends. Even the most reflective conservative students I know desperately need to attach faces and names to their principles, vivifying the belief that not all actions are motivated purely by self-interest or that civil society can provide meaningful, personal help to the unfortunate.

Oftentimes, a student incessantly hears that conservatives are all backwards old men, seeking to hold on to as much of their exploitatively-gained fortune as possible through public policy. This ad hominem attack can be swiftly silenced by those who have experienced the generosity of ISI. Through the generosity of donors, promising students and faculty are introduced and furnished with books for no other purpose than to understand truth through conversations with great minds, past and contemporary. What better testament could there be to the beauty of the pursuit of the good as an end in itself?

The Imaginative Conservative, like ISI, offers both social and intellectual support to young and old conservatives alike. If ISI’s strength is its ability to gather thinkers from around the nation into one physical location, then The Imaginative Conservative’s strength is its ability to gather a great breadth and depth of intellect from around the country into a reflective community. The kind of writing that touches on the root of being and never oversimplifies humanity to fit into a political equation helps conservatives grasp their beliefs with the humility that truth often demands. This intellectually rigorous investigation of conservative principles is equally as important as their social fountainhead. Without this, conservatism would be an empirical doctrine, espoused only by a select group with shared experiences. With the proper intellectual virtues, conservatism becomes a way of seeing the world- a prudent inkling of what the good life looks like.

One does not have to try to pass down a large body of knowledge in order to pass on a conservative heritage. If we raise children and integrate adults into healthy, benevolent communities that care for and edify one another, they will always prefer one another to bureaucratic tyranny. Our great and only project in carrying on the conservative way of life is to serve our countrymen by offering them true intellectual and social fulfillment. To this end, organizations like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and The Imaginative Conservative are indispensable and laudable.

Books on this topic may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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3 replies to this post
  1. Perhaps ISI or some other group of conservative-minded individuals, who care about “a healthy network of friends, families, and neighbors”, could find their way out of the ivy covered walls of colleges and universities and start supporting the great mass of primary and secondary teachers who share those ideals. Perhaps a reason why “today’s college students and young adults” are “woefully unfamiliar with robust community life” is because the teachers who wanted to inspire youth with a solid community life didn’t have the support they needed in the midst of a soul-crushing system.

    ISI is a wonderful organization that through its programs promotes ideas the culture direly needs. Would it not be possible to reach out with similar programs wherein “promising students and [Middle and High School teachers] are introduced and furnished with books for no other purpose than to understand truth through conversations with great minds, past and contemporary”? Why wait until after adolescents have spent almost 13 years being indoctrinated with “Progressive” education ideology, which results in the false notion “that conservatives are all backwards old men, seeking to hold on to as much of their exploitatively-gained fortune as possible through public policy”, before some effort is made to correct such a stunted education?

    I know homeschoolers, and some private and parochial schools are fighting back against “Progressivism” in education. Schools such as The Chesterton Academy in Edina, MN and Saint Benedict School in Richmond, VA, have faculty that understand the importance of community life and classic education. These schools, however, are few and far between. I’m confident there are teachers in public schools who would relish the opportunity to be part of a greater community that provided some sort of support and guidance toward revitalizing the culture. Might we not go beyond the “Ivory Tower” and reach out to those teachers and their students? That is, after all, exactly the tactic “Progressives” took. And perhaps, after much hard work in Primary and Secondary schools, our colleges and universities might not be dealing with an small remnant of students open to the “great minds, past and contemporary”.

  2. “The case for conservatism rests on the reality of vibrant, interdependent social communities that precede and supersede government. The conservative movement makes its most humane case for limited government when it chooses to paint a picture of a healthy network of friends, families, and neighbors instead of shouting “tyranny” and “communist” at those who support a progressive tax structure. ”

    A few months ago I was listening to Reagan’s 1984 inaugural speech. What was so striking was the extent to which he continually invoked the idea of an “American community”, and the contrast between this and the obsessive focus upon the freedom of the isolated individual in modern Conservative rhetoric. People vote for moral vision, not for impersonal, mechanical economic policy talk, and if one side doesn’t provide the moral vision the other side will (the Progressives). From Mitt Romney, to John McCain, to Bob Dole every single Republican candidacy that has avoided the moral/social dimension in order to impersonally focus on “economics” and “policy” has gone down in flames. The same also goes for George HW Bush’s second bid for president, for everyone knows that the first time he rode in on Reagan’s coat tails as his vice president. The fact that the Left is telling us that we should run our campaigns in this way (morally neutral) should be a clue to us if the failure of these campaigns has not been enough of one. The importance of community (including charity) as well abortion, marriage etc. are all part of the same moral and intellectual continuum. We cannot relinquish these things for an emphasis upon economic strategy, because at the end of the day, even economics is not about economics.

    Anyway, welcome to the site Shelby and…I see you were a Philosophy major; cool.

    • I think you are exactly right, Brian. I like that phrase: “even economics is not about economics.” Thanks for the welcome; glad to be here!

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