conservative

The other day, I had the occasion to look over some of my past essays at The Imaginative Conservative. Much to my surprise, I’m quickly approaching my 250th essay. I might actually have reached and passed this number. Because I’ve failed to label my essays correctly, I am probably over 250 essays.

Officially, though, Google stats tells me this is my 245th essay. Considering Winston founded The Imaginative Conservative less than 2.5 years ago, this seems like something to celebrate. What a blessing to have such a forum.

When Winston (and I; but mostly Winston) started The Imaginative Conservative, we wanted to provide a forum on the internet where folks of good will could discuss serious issues, issues more important than generally found in the fleeting moments of the world. We wanted something different than what one might find on Fox or CNN or what one might hear on average conservative talk radio (Mike Church excepted, of course). We also wanted to distinguish ourselves from our conservative and libertarian brethren on the web who often focused on policy issues or who wrote rather esoterically and exclusivistly (yes, I’m making up this word) for a limited audience or an “in group.”

So, the rules of The Imaginative Conservative from the beginning were essentially: no rules. Just be polite and reasonable, and speak your mind but also your soul. Post as you will, with no real litmus test except this: we need to conserve the best of the western and the humane traditions.

Oh yeah, and we really, really hate it when readers comment on our essays anonymously. But, that’s another story and, perhaps, another rant. Besides, John Willson could rail against this far better than I. Though, I share his sentiments.

In those first few months of The Imaginative Conservative’s existence, we were getting only 10 to 20 “reads” per piece total. Now, thanks to Winston’s dedication and vision, essays are getting that many reads in just the few seconds of the essay appearing on the web. According to the prestigious Alexa ratings, The Imaginative Conservative now ranks in the top 43,000 most influential websites in the U.S., well ahead of a number of others who speak to a similar audience and who inspired us originally to create The Imaginative Conservative.

So, in taking all of this into account, I looked back over my essays. I shouldn’t have been surprised that a serious number of the roughly 250 essays have involved tiltings against Leviathan. I seem rather obsessed with despising the presidency, the TSA, military scientists, and the national security state.

But, an equal number of essays are searching and definitional. That is, several of us at The Imaginative Conservative have been trying to explore the meaning of conservatism, libertarianism, and other non-isms that hover over, around, beneath, below, and next to our own individual beliefs.

In the movement today–in and around The Imaginative Conservative–much debate exists over terms. Winston despises the term “libertarian.” John Willson has renounced the term “conservative”, as has, at times, Mike Church. Willson, especially, has embraced the term “traditionalist.” Church prefers “[r]epublican.” Peter Lawler is “post-modern” as are Gerald Russello and Pete Blum. Dan McCarthy calls himself a “Tory Anarchist.” Jim Otteson calls himself a “classical liberal.” Steve Horwitz, Aeon Skoble, and Robert Higgs readily identify with anarchism. Sarah Skwire is a humane libertarian. Patrick Deneen is a “Front Porcher.”

This is not entirely new in the anti-statist movement. Kirk called himself a “Bohemian Tory,” and a conservative. Voegelin and Strauss refused the label of conservative altogether, preferring to be thought of as philosophers. Nisbet proudly called himself a conservative, but he also believed conservatism to be an ideology. Dawson laughed at the idea of liberalism, believing it to be merely a transition from Christendom to tyranny, but he only once or twice called himself a conservative. Hayek wanted to be known as an “Old Whig.” And, the list could go on.

For what it’s worth, I’m perfectly fine with being labeled a libertarian, a conservative, a republican, an Old Whig, an Augustinian Reaganite, or whatever happy or unhappy label anyone would want to give me (should I be worthy). Or, to put it more directly, I quote Ferris Bueller:

It’s not that I condone fascism. . . or any ism for that matter. Isms in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an ism. He should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon. ‘I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.’ A good point there. After all, he was the walrus.

Oh, I miss John Hughes. But, that’s another story, and, with this story, I probably have more to say than John Willson. He could readily outdo me on issues related to Pogo, though.

With Kirk and Dawson, I don’t think the left-right spectrum is a very real thing. It’s a quasi made-up deception, drawing our eyes toward the leveling horizon and missing the Transcendent.

Quasi because, as with all devices of the ideologues, it takes a truth and exaggerates it at the expense of a number of other truths.

Dawson warned that embracing the Left or the Right or even the Left-Right spectrum would prove “the way to destruction.” By necessity, such a divide overly politicized life and all aspects of culture and life. The divide, as many others have argued, is not between man and man, but between man and anti-man, and Christ and anti-Christ. “The way of life is the way of justice,” Dawson wrote. “It turns neither to the Right nor to the Left.”

As I got caught up–far more than I should have–in the recent elections, I sometimes lost sight of what always remains and what is fixed in all times and all places.

When Winston and I founded The Imaginative Conservative, we wanted to be not reactive conservatives or instinctive conservatives or avaricious conservatives or power-obsessed conservatives. We wanted to be conservative in really one fundamental sense: we wanted to conserve the best of the western tradition, the part and the narrative that upholds the dignity of the individual human person in all of his fallenness, shame, and glory.

This, I believe, remains the only legitimate and decent form of conservatism: the conservation of dignity.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreThe 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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