In 1992, Winston Elliott became president of the Free Enterprise Institute. He later began the Institute’s Center for the American Republic. In 2010, Mr. Elliott started an online journal called The Imaginative Conservative. (From Russell Kirk Center Spring 2011 Newsletter)
Please tell us something about the work of the Center for the American Republic.
The Center for the American Republic seeks to form conservative leaders through the study of the history and principles of the American Republic and its roots in Western Civilization. We work with professors, college students, high school teachers and citizen activists with the goal of preparing them to be leaders who are intellectually equipped to restore our culture and reclaim the principles of ordered liberty. In my 19 years of teaching those principles, I have had the privilege of working with a visiting faculty of scholars throughout the country who are committed to the American Republic and the Western culture which made it possible.
I am indebted to Brad Birzer, Gleaves Whitney, Ben Lockerd, John Willson and my wife, Barbara Elliott, for their insight into the principles of conservatism taught by Russell Kirk. Also, I am grateful to Annette Kirk for her generous advice and for introducing me to friends of Dr. Kirk from across the country.
What inspired you to create The Imaginative Conservative?
In 2010 I was rereading Dr. Kirk’s Program for Conservatives and was once again moved by his brilliance and the power of his presentation of conservative principles. We had planned a colloquium on the book to be led by Brad Birzer bringing together about 18 colleagues for a one-day discussion followed by a dinner party of the kind Annette and Russell Kirk often hosted. There were many other friends we wished could be with us for the discussion, and it came to me that an online forum for traditional conservatives would allow us to continue the Great Conversation that had been interrupted by time and distance. My good friend Brad Birzer (who holds the Russell Kirk Chair at Hillsdale College) agreed to be co-editor. We asked our friends to join us in this continuing discussion of the Permanent Things. We of course would prefer to be enjoying a fine meal, good drinks and pipes or cigars together while we speak of the best of Western Civilization. However, since we are spread across the country this electronic community will have to warm our hearts and stimulate our minds. We hope that some of the important work of this excellent group of conservative thinkers will continue spreading beyond our small community and play a part in reinvigorating the American Republic.
How have the writings of Russell Kirk influenced your thinking, your life, and the blog?
The writings of Russell Kirk have shaped my intellectual life, my spiritual life, and my career. I read Dr. Kirk‟s Randolph of Roanoke as a college student. After I became president of the Institute I once again returned to the writings of Dr. Kirk to seek the wisdom of Western Civilization. I expanded our programs to include culture, literature, and the arts in addition to an appreciation of private property and limited government. Eventually I began to seek an understanding of the Christian faith and converted while reading The Roots of American Order (in particular Dr. Kirk‟s retelling of St. Augustine’s conversion).
Dr. Kirk’s work informs the mission of The Imaginative Conservative, which is to be a forum 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, Paul Elmer More, Wilhelm Roepke, Robert Nisbet, M.E. Bradford, Christopher Dawson and other leaders of Imaginative Conservatism.
What are some of the major issues that have been addressed on the blog so far?
I am very pleased that we have addressed a wide variety of major issues in the short history of The Imaginative Conservative. What is the essence of conservatism? What was the role of faith in the American Founding? Is liberal learning still possible in the modern academy? Should conservatives and libertarians be allies? What is the proper role for the American Republic in spreading ordered liberty to other cultures/nations? Is Distributism a conservative alternative to laissez-faire capitalism?
In The Imaginative Conservative community there is a great appreciation for the thought of Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot, Irving Babbitt, and Christopher Dawson, among other imaginative conservatives. However, some of us look at the state of Western culture and the American Republic and see a huge dark cloud which seems ready to unleash a storm that may well wash away what we most treasure of our inherited ways. Others focus on the silver lining which may be found in the next generation of traditional conservatives who have been inspired by Dr. Kirk and his like. I hope that The Imaginative Conservative answers T.S. Eliot’s call to “redeem the time, redeem the dream.”
Books on the topic of this interview may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.