And, so it begins.
The Hillsdale offices of The Imaginative Conservative have officially closed. Dr. Miles Smith IV will, happily, reside in what housed them for the next twelve months in southern Michigan. Just as true, the Longmont offices of The Imaginative Conservative are now open for business. Of course, HQ remains in Houston. But, out here on the margins and the frontiers of the in-between, yours truly will continue to write on everything under the sun.
As some of you might know, and deeply inspired by the example and friendship of Winston Elliott, I have accepted a one-year academic appointment at the University of Colorado-Boulder as the Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy and Scholar in Residence. Not only am I certain that whatever position I have earned here is due in large part to the success of The Imaginative Conservative over the past four years (Happy Anniversary!!!), but I plan to model my entire year on what I have learned through the example and friendship of Winston Elliott over the past two decades: first, that one must be principled, not ideological; second, that culture matters more than almost any other factor of human existence; and, three, treat everyone with dignity. Granted, none of these ideas originated with Winston, but he has personified them as editor of The Imaginative Conservative, not only in the direction of writing and the recruitment of contributors, but in the very intense outreach of the site.
A few thoughts as I look out of my new office window, staring at the Rocky Mountains (yes, it is quite beautiful).
First, how does one accumulate so much detritus in a lifetime?
After fifteen years in Hillsdale, I have quite a bit it seems.
Granted, I have saved almost every magazine, book, and knickknack in rather good order for years. One might call me, cynically, a packrat or, more benevolently, an archaeologist and archivist of nearly five decades of a life. From “I Like Ike” lapel pins of the 1950s, to Green Lantern comics found in garage sales and mass paperback science fiction novels purchased from my hometown bookstore in the 1970s, to almost every drawing my six children have produced over the last fifteen years… I have preserved it. Though born in 1967, I have even preserved the mathom* that my grandparents and my parents collected long before I entered this world. Hence, the “I Like Ike” campaign paraphernalia. Knights of Columbus cuff links and letterhead from the Kansas Legislature of the late 1960s mixed readily with buttons of such New Wave bands of the early 1980s as The Tubes and the B-52s. A double “Yes” button resides next to several medals I won while in high school, and even a few love notes and love gifts.
Much of this I packed and stored in Hillsdale, but I did manage to carry a number of books, music, and writing technology (computers and all that goes with them) across the prairies and the plains to the Front Range. And, of course, my entire family—including our beloved cat, Galadriel—came with us.
Second, every mile traveling West made me remember how much I will miss my students at Hillsdale College. I have said it for years and I have never had need to exaggerate: I love HC students. Having lectured all across the country over the last fifteen years, I have met some great students, but I have never met a group of students as strong, as diligent, and as dedicated as Hillsdale students. Neither an Ivy League school nor a small liberal arts college can touch Hillsdale when it comes to the quality and character of Hillsdale students. They not only inspire me, they keep me honest and restrain my excesses. Individually and collectively, they have the power to change every community in the free world—all for the better. Yes, I will miss them over the coming academic year.
Additionally, I will miss my many excellent colleagues such as Pete Blum, Ivan Pongracic, Steve Smith, Don Turner, David Whalen, Paul Rahe, and others.
One really cannot ask for better students or friends.
Third, I would be dishonest if I did not admit my love of almost all things western. As we traveled away from the Great Lakes, I could not help but notice how wonderfully friendly—genuinely so—Iowans, Nebraskans, and Coloradans are. Every person says hello, and every person actually means it. It is far more than a superficial convention. It is a very element of being. I knew this growing up in Kansas, but it is so nice to be reminded of it in person and in tangible reality. These people know how to be individuals while being essential contributors to community. I am still not entirely sure how to explain it except that the peoples of Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah (Texas to the nth degree) take pride not only in themselves but in those around them. It is not utopia, of course, but it is republican and wholesome and full of just pride.
The landscapes stir me at the very depths of existence. I know many Americans who think of what I love most as “flyover country.” I am fine with this. Those of us who understand it can hold on to it just a bit longer than we could have otherwise. Traveling legally at 75 mph across Nebraska, the neatness (really, an ordered liberty) of the farms moved me as did the wild curves of the Platte River. Never did the landscape dull me. In every direction, I saw flowing seas of grasses, Palaminos, Quarter Horses, and Holsteins grazing contentedly, and never-ending metamorphic cloud shapes across and through immense horizons. This is America.
Fourth, I felt intense pride as I saw big, big trains carrying coal, oil, corn, and wheat; the brand new John Deere dealerships in the small towns; oil wells pumping and pumping. Beauty and utility become one and the same in God’s Country.
Finally, as I begin to chronicle my year in Colorado, following the amazing and wondrous Steve Hayward in the same position, I wish I could offer innumerable insights on the state of education and the importance of ideas. But, frankly, at this moment, I am simply happy. Happier than I have been in years. I have with me my family, and I am writing this under the shadow of Long’s Peak.
Whatever my brain is thinking, it is my soul that is running the show at the moment. Maybe tomorrow will be different. But, today, I am happy, and I am content—in ways I have not been in years. I think I will enjoy it for what it is. The brain can reclaim leadership tomorrow…or the next day…or the day after that….
Regardless, the Longmont offices of The Imaginative Conservative are now open for contemplation, soul-searching, and, of course, business.
*The hobbit term for anything which they had no use for but were unwilling to throw away.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.