For those of you who do not know, Winston Elliott is the mastermind behind this whole venture, The Imaginative Conservative. I first met Winston twenty summers ago—at a conference he sponsored in Houston, summer 1995. I was still in graduate school at the time, living in Bloomington, Indiana. I had never in my life lived in a place as humid as Bloomington. Then, I went to Houston. Phew. Lots of humidity, concrete, air conditioning, and people. I was not a huge fan of the first three. But the people? Say what you will about Houston, but it is full of amazing individuals. Yes, individuals, with strong ideals, the desire to risk it all, and the drive to make the world better. No one more so than Winston Elliott III, a transplant from Maryland and a man who had already proved himself a grand success in the computer business. Add that drive to a love of the great books and the great ideas of western civilization and you get the fascinating person who founded The Imaginative Conservative.
By the summer and fall of 2009, Winston Elliott and I had talked a considerable amount about taking the Free Enterprise Institute into the realm of cyberspace and into print publishing. Would it be possible to make a quarterly journal, a series of books, and a number of teasers to be posted as blogs on the web? Winston’s reluctance was that the web was too ephemeral. Readers jumped from one topic to another without thinking about the issues. At best, he feared, reading on the web would prove yet one more irritant in a world fraught and run amok with propaganda and soundbytes.
Would it be possible, however, to employ the web in the manner that T.S. Eliot, Christopher Dawson, and Russell Kirk had once employed the printed page in The Criterion, The Dublin Review, and Modern Age? Maybe the medium was not always the message. Maybe the medium could be sanctified? What if we wrote thoughtful pieces? What if we wrote at length: true essays, not mere “blogs” or “posts”? What if we wrote about cultural issues? What if we treated things such as movies, when well done, at the level of good books—that is, as art? Was there enough interest in conserving the best of the past and the present for the sake of the future? And, if so, would the web provide a means by which to do it?
Winston asked all the right questions but knew that many of these things could not be answered until attempted. And the attempt would not be tepid. No, he was not looking for a sprinkle, but for full immersion.
When we started in the summer of 2010, there were just a few of us writing, and, probably, an equal number reading. But through the full immersion that Winston brings to everything he does, The Imaginative Conservative exploded. Every month, Winston would send out to us contributors the new numbers, the vast new audience(s) we kept reaching… and reaching. From several hundred to several thousand to tens of thousands. A little more than a year ago, Winston made another sage decision by hiring my friend and fellow historian, Stephen Klugewicz, as editor of The Imaginative Conservative, and the duo have combined to make the journal the best and most successful it has ever been: The Imaginative Conservative‘s essays have been read over five million times, and it just boasted its best month ever in terms of monthly readership.
The rise of The Imaginative Conservative was and remains one of the most amazing rides I have ever experienced.
When it comes to the creation of The Imaginative Conservative, I was merely a consultant but a very enthusiastic one—the kind that only those who are from America and, especially, those from the Great Plains states produce. The type that the Brits—even some of my good English friends—consider to be “over the top.” Well, it is true. I do possess a lot of energy, and I am willing to give where I can.
As to my contribution… well, nothing beyond writing, really. I have lots and lots of ideas, but my role has been to write as much as possible. As of this writing (July 5, 2015), I have published 392 essays for The Imaginative Conservative. Broken down, this means I’ve produced an essay about every 4.6 days over the last five years, and I’ve written about 392,000 words for the site. I’m sure many words have been poorer than other words, but it has been one of the best exercises in my adult life for my writing, my reading, and my comprehension. I admittedly possess a few things, all of which can be dangerously debilitating: energy beyond my ability to understand; hypergraphia; and the unquenchable urge to read and learn. Winston’s friendship and encouragement have allowed me to reign these things in and use them—I hope—for good. Every once in a while, he has to remind me that I’ve “gone off the reservation.” And, of course, I return.
But I do not wish to make this essay about me. And it should not be primarily about Winston either. Rather, it is about what this unique journal has become by this, its five-year anniversary. In 2010, Winston sought to create a place where we—as individual persons living in a variety of communities, often overlapping and conflicting—could discuss things thoughtfully, honestly, and with integrity. The Imaginative Conservative, now a precocious five-year-old journal, is that: a unique, diverse, far-reaching, beautiful, and very tangible piece of real estate in the unreal corner of the world called the internet.
Books by Bradley Birzer may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.