(This essay is adapted from a speech given at the Annual Conference of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters held June 7-9, 2013 in Baltimore, MD.)
The Imaginative Conservative is an online journal for those who seek the True, the Good and the Beautiful. We address culture, liberal learning, politics, political economy, literature, the arts and the American Republic in the tradition of Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot, Edmund Burke, Irving Babbitt, Wilhelm Roepke, Robert Nisbet, Richard Weaver, M.E. Bradford, Eric Voegelin, Christopher Dawson, Paul Elmer More and other leaders of Imaginative Conservatism.
The Imaginative Conservative began its foray into the world of online journalism in July 2010. Over the last 35 months, we have published 1,849 essays, poems, and lectures for our readership. Posting an average of two essays each day, The Imaginative Conservative makes available the equivalent of two issues of Time each month. Of this material, about seventy percent is original to our journal. The remainder includes classic essays republished from our generous friends at ISI (publishers of Modern Age and The Intercollegiate Review), Political Science Reviewer, Humanitas, The University Bookman, Crisis, and The American Conservative.
The Imaginative Conservative is home to a lively and broad community interested in discussing culture, government, art, and the American Republic. To date, more than 5,000 comments have been provided by our engaged readership. We offer the writings of more than 250 authors of varied backgrounds and professions. These include: professors, students (at the undergraduate and graduate level), teachers, lawyers, artists, musicians, architects, CEO’s, college presidents, Catholics priests, and Presbyterian pastors.
Our twenty-five senior contributors range in age from twenty-one to eighty-four, some completing undergraduate degrees, some celebrating five decades of continuous teaching at their college. Our senior contributors include professors, a national radio host, a high school teacher, a political writer, and a children’s book publisher. Collectively, they have written and edited more than 100 books. Our most prolific senior contributor, Dr. Bradley J. Birzer, co-founded The Imaginative Conservative and singlehandedly accounts for fifteen percent of our archives.
The facts and figures of who we are and what we do help The Imaginative Conservative stay self-aware, test our effectiveness in reaching the culture in order to renew it, and adjust our means to better suit our ends. Statistics can’t tell us what to aim for, but they can help us stay on the right track. For this reason, metrics matter.
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”–Matthew 5:15
Over the past twelve months that light has been shared with our readership through 800,000 visits to our site and more than 1.3 million pageviews. More than 19,000 people “Like” us on Facebook and our Twitter account is followed by more than 2,000 readers.
The Purpose of The Imaginative Conservative
“If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.”–Will Durant
Our hope at The Imaginative Conservative is that we offer an ongoing dialogue on conservatism that, if readers take their time and open their minds, may offer a better understanding of conservatism and of what is worth conserving. This is our hope for the community of readers and authors we draw. We hope to offer a conversation on essential principles where agreement is not the highest goal. Nor is winning. Instead we strive for understanding; we seek to draw closer to the True, the Good and the Beautiful. We hope to offer our readers many questions to ponder and to encourage each other to remember to think, in the same way advised by Dr. Russell Kirk:
“Demosthenes, the great Athenian patriot, cried out to his countrymen when they seemed too confused and divided to stand against the tyranny of Macedonia: ‘In God’s name, I beg of you to think.’”
In the Apology, and more explicitly in the Gorgias, Socrates describes the kind of discussion that we hope to eschew:
“I take it that you, like me, have experienced many discussions and that you’ve observed this sort of a thing about them: it’s not easy for the participants to define jointly what they’re undertaking to discuss, and so, having learned from and taught each other, to conclude their session.
Instead, if they’re disputing some point and one maintains that the other isn’t right or isn’t clear, they get irritated; each thinking the other is speaking out of spite. They become eager to win instead of investigating the subject under discussion.…So, I’m afraid to pursue my examination of you, for fear that you should take me to be speaking with eagerness to win against you, rather than to have our subject become clear.”
Socrates reminds us of the need for thoughtful inquiry. The organization of the society, according to Plato, is determined by the orderliness of the souls of its citizens.
Simone Weil wrote that our time is a time of disorder very like the disorder of Greece in the fifth century before Christ. In her words,
“It is as though we had returned to the age of Protagoras and the Sophists, the age when the art of persuasion—whose modern equivalent is advertising slogans, publicity, propaganda meetings, the press, the cinema, and radio—took the place of thought and controlled the fate of cities. So the ninth book of Plato’s Republic reads like a description of contemporary events.”
It is worth asking: does American conservatism have to do only with limited government-understanding the balance of order and freedom that results in liberty? Or does conservatism have a much broader message?
Dr. Kirk would answer this way:
“The conservative is concerned, first of all, for the regeneration of spirit and character—with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest.”
For most, this is not what comes to mind when conservatism is discussed. Far too often, those who call themselves conservative offer nothing in the realm of art, literature, or theology, choosing instead to adopt the petty practices of modern American politics, interrupting questioners and hurling epithets at those who dare to disagree with them.
In addition, an essential part of true conservatism for The Imaginative Conservative is a commitment to liberal learning. The beauty of liberal learning is the in-depth consideration of the greatest works of the best minds of Western Civilization.
Dr. Kirk understood this breadth and dignity inherent in true conservatism. Neither dour nor shrinking, the conservative asks the burning questions of the human condition and diligently seeks their answers:
“At the back of every discussion of the good society lies this question, What is the object of human life? The enlightened conservative does not believe that the end or aim of life is competition; or success; or enjoyment; or longevity; or power; or possessions. He believes, instead, that the object of life is Love. He knows that the just and ordered society is that in which Love governs us, so far as Love ever can reign in this world of sorrows; and he knows that the anarchical or the tyrannical society is that in which Love lies corrupt. He has learnt that Love is the source of all being, and that Hell itself is ordained by Love. He understands that Death, when we have finished the part that was assigned to us, is the reward of Love. And he apprehends the truth that the greatest happiness ever granted to a man is the privilege of being happy in the hour of his death.”— Russell Kirk
The Imaginative Conservative, we hope, offers to our families, our communities, and the Republic, a conservatism of hope, grace, charity, gratitude and prayer.
Joy and Renewal
At times, the conservative may suffer from the deep division he feels between the world in which he lives and what is good, true, and beautiful. However, he has a joy that does not ignore suffering; he instead finds beauty in the contrast with suffering, helping him understand the human condition and draw nearer to wisdom.
Perhaps the 30th Psalm captures the quest for conservatives in the 21st century?
I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me.
O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.
Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness
For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.
Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.
I cried to thee, O Lord; and unto the Lord I made supplication.
What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me: Lord, be thou my helper.
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;
To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.
Joy cometh in the morning! Let us proclaim a conservatism of joy, gratitude, and love. Let us proclaim a passion for the true, the good and the beautiful. Let us be true conservatives, conservators of all that is worthy of conserving. And yes, let there be dancing, praise, gladness, laughter and joy. Shouldn’t conservators rejoice in the grand heritage they’ve inherited to share with the next generation? At The Imaginative Conservative we say “Yes.”
I close by offering to you words from the great Book of Wisdom where Truth, Love and Beauty are always to be found. These words are described by some as a Christian Humanist Manifesto. We believe they may be taken as the credo for a conservative who is continually aware of the created nature of man and committed to respect the dignity of the human person in all thoughts and actions.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”—Philippians 4:8
W. Winston Elliott III is Editor-in-Chief of The Imaginative Conservative.