I am yearning for conservative voices offering great depth, thoughtfulness, and dare we say, grace. Is it possible to be strong in conservative principles and to present those principles in a manner which is attractive, persuasive and genuine? Where is our American Cicero? Is there hope for the American Republic? Perhaps. As Russell Kirk said: “A conservatism of instinct must be reinforced by a conservatism of thought and imagination.” The Imaginative Conservative will continue to present a conservatism of thought and imagination in the hope of preserving the best of the Western tradition and restoring the virtue of our Republic. Let us commence, and let us pray.

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 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.

Our hope is that The Imaginative Conservative offers 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 Imaginative Conservative community of readers and authors. 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 offer our readers questions to ponder, 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.–Prospects for Conservatives

The Imaginative Conservative, we believe, 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.”

Let us turn to 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.

“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

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.

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Published: Oct 19, 2011
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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9 replies to this post
  1. Aspects of the task may be different depending upon where our vocations lead us.

    Someone such as Barbara, working with various troubled communities, has her noble work cut out for her. Same for Brad teaching. Some others of us, more politically involved, must constantly interpret current events in a mercurial and ephemeral world, lacking such distinct, stable and rewarding furrows to plough. A Christian monk, a Zen master or a Sufi adept can lose himself in his/God's work, just as can a parent, a teacher, a social-worker, etc. In a way, whether they are saving the culture for today or planting winter wheat to sprout after the coming snows, it may not matter so long as they keep heart and keep at it. Similarly, a writer and publisher of ideas such as you primarily feeds hearts with values. No effort is wasted for those who "work like a creek" (in Rumi's phrase), quiet but never still. The conservative many can take pleasure and hope in the immediate and local results of their efforts; while the politically-active few must struggle harder to avoid despair for they are sowing for a far broader and uncertain harvest. In communities and families no effort is wasted, while for those of us who try to paint on a bigger (but by no means no more important) canvas, results are less immediately dependable.

    Yet, if God stands outside of all Creation then He stands outside of Time, and every act within Time remains ever visible to Him and to all those blessed enough to join Him. So even if empires decay, no effort is wasted nor good deed unnoticed.

    Meanwhile, let us be like Chesterton's old Saxon king for whom: "…there was death on the Emperor, And night upon the Pope, And Alfred, hiding in deep grass, Hardened his heart with hope."

  2. Very insightful article from the editor of IMC . Hopeful to see more articles authored by WWE III in the near future.

  3. A friend used to say, “I try to be a theologian, but laughter keeps breaking in.” One sin that is terribly dangerous to Christians is despair; a complement, I think to the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit–or perhaps a prerequisite. I try to be a skeptic, but hope keeps breaking in. Thanks for the reminder, Winston.

  4. This was very inspirational, Winston. Indeed, it does not seem possible to me to renew the moral imaginations of citizens without the arts, especially to inspire conservatism of the good, the true and the beautiful. It’s crazy that progressivism owns and defines the arts these days and they use it as a platform for demonstrating supposed progress away from the backwardness of classicism in all things. I am grateful that your website really does prioritize the arts as foundational to your message.

  5. This is certainly not the conservatism most people hear about these days. This is not the so-called conservatism of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Donald Trump. Imaginative conservatism, as outlined in this article, would have no place in today’s Republican party. Although I am much more liberal in my philosophy, I can appreciate the genuinely beautiful aspects of what you call imaginative conservatism.

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