by Shelby Tankersley
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.
Shelby Tankersley is Assistant Editor of The Imaginative Conservative and has previously been published in the Intercollegiate Review Online. She is a former ISI Honors Fellow.