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 by Winston Elliott III


Winston Elliott III

“Long before our own time, the customs of our ancestors moulded admirable men, and in turn these eminent men upheld the ways and institutions of their forebears.  Our age, however, inherited the Republic like some beautiful painting of bygone days, its colors already fading through great age; and not only has our time neglected to freshen the colors of the picture, but we have failed to preserve its form and outlines.

For what remains to us, nowadays, of the ancient ways on which the commonwealth, we are told, was founded? We see them so lost in oblivion that they are not merely neglected, but quite forgot.  And what am I to say of the men? For our  customs have perished for want of men to stand by them, and we are now called to an account, so that we stand impeached like men accused of capital crimes, compelled to plead our own cause.  Through our vices, rather than from happenstance, we retain the word “republic” long after we have lost the reality.”—Cicero, De Re Publica

Do we too retain the word “republic” long after we have lost the reality?  Is the American Republic beyond hope? President Richard Nixon once asked Dr. Russell Kirk if we “we have any hope.” Dr. Kirk replied that “…it is all a matter of belief.  If most intelligent and energetic people come to believe the prophets of despair, then indeed ruin falls upon the state, for many folk withdraw to hidie-holes, there to conceal themselves from the coming wrath.”  We should ask ourselves if we encourage our fellows to have hope.  Do we suggest paths to cultural renewal as often as we lament the present discontent?  Or have we given in to a conservatism of nostalgia where we immerse in mourning the loss of what we can never regain? Are we prophets of despair?

Alternatively, is ours a conservatism of restoration as well as preservation?  Dr. Kirk went on to tell Nixon: “But if, rather than despairing, people recognize the gravity of social circumstances and hopefully resolve to take arms against a sea of troubles—why, hope breeds hope, and a nation’s vitality is renewed…the American Republic is still young, as civilizations go, and that despite our present discontents we Americans conceivably may enter soon upon an augustan age.”

A conservatism of hope which helps to bring about an augustan age. I like that.

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Published: Jul 22, 2010
W. Winston Elliott III
W. Winston Elliott III is President of The Free Enterprise Institute, Editor of Imaginative Conservative Books and Editor-in-Chief of The Imaginative Conservative. Mr. Elliott is Visiting Professor of Liberal Arts and Conservative Thought at Houston Baptist University. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Washington College and a Masters of Business Administration, with Honors, from the University of Houston.
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2 replies to this post
  1. Both good points you make today, Winston. Conservatives should resist their own tendencies toward crustiness, and (for their own souls' sakes, as well as for their cause) heed Belloc's joyful command to "hunt, drink, sing, dance, sail, and dig. And those that would not should be compelled by force." Cheers.

  2. For all his faults, one of Reagan’s great strengths as a conservative politician was his optimism. He had a sunny disposition, and that aided him well — it dispelled the notion that conservatives are by necessity dour folk.

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