The Imaginative Conservative has never once proclaimed originality. Rather, it has proclaimed that true and abiding things exist, untouched by the mockery or ignorance of man. There are things that always exist, but are often forgotten…
The Imaginative Conservative is eight years old today (July 10). A quick calculation shows that I’ve written roughly 416 separate essays, each at a minimum of 1,000 words. I’ve written something close to 430,000 words in eight years for the journal. In eight more years, I very much hope to claim a little more than double this.
As proud as I am to be the co-founder of and regular contributor to the journal (I always list—with grand and just enthusiasm—my co-founder status in every bio), I must give praise to its co-founder and actual Editor-in-Chief, W. Winston Elliott III. Frankly, I’ve never made an editorial decision, and I’ve only made a few suggestions over the past eight years. Winston—now along with the mighty Steve Klugewicz and the irrepressible Alyssa Barnes—do the real editorial work. From the beginning of The Imaginative Conservative, though, Winston has possessed the vision. He is the marketing and web genius, the man who understood how to take a website originally produced for a few close friends to argue with one another about ideas, and to find a willing market, a willing desire, and a willing longing for serious ideas to be taken…well, seriously.
From the very beginning, Winston understood that imagination and conservatism must inform the other—that politics is, at best, of secondary (or even less) importance to culture and religion, and that writers (over 1,000 authors thus far) must write not to win an argument but to arrive at the truth, however dimly understood in this vale of tears. He has recruited some of the finest minds—from every background, ethnicity, discipline, religion, and age imaginable—to write as a cadre of truth seekers. Along the way, some of the best of us have fallen: Steve Masty, Peter Lawler, and Stratford Caldecott, RIP.
Winston has also understood that—just as we should never conform to the things of this world—we should embrace the Western Tradition, broadly understood, the liberal arts, and the seven virtues. Beyond these things, though, the sky has been the limit, and not always the sky, but the very universe and what might be beyond. While most of our essays (nearly 6,000 have been published) deal with the seriousness of art, architecture, music, and cultural expression, some of our best essays have examined everything from Khaddaffi’s sartorial fashions (or, lack thereof) to the theological symbolism of Stan Lee’s Silver Surfer. Indeed, far from being an obituary for and litany of “dead white males,” The Imaginative Conservative has demonstrated time and again the permanent truths of human existence, no matter how many times we must relearn and re-remember them. We’ve shown lots of love for Socrates, St. Perpetua, and Malcolm X. Granted, two were male and all are dead, but none were—conclusively, at least—European whites.
It’s hard, then, in the summer of 2018, not to reflect upon the state of the world now as compared to eight years ago, when The Imaginative Conservative sprang into existence. On a very personal level, I never tire—and the mentions become more and more frequent—of students and younger academics telling me in a myriad of ways how The Imaginative Conservative has shaped them. And, not just academics. I’ve had truck drivers, homeschooling parents, ministers, a comic book writer, and a Hollywood producer tell me recently how much the journal means to them. Almost always, I get asked what Winston Elliott is like as a thinker, an intellect, and a person, and I’m frequently asked how Steve Klugewicz makes the decisions to publish or not in such a timely fashion.
More often than not, I’m asked why the journal has been such a success, and I always point them back to the intelligence and perceptiveness of Mr. Elliott and Dr. Klugewicz.
But, when I think of the world and how it has changed in eight years, I can’t—immediately, at least—feel as optimistic. All across the world, strong executives have arisen, centralizing authority under the charisma and power of a person rather than around the rule of law. China, Russia, and Iran are each flexing their muscles fiercely, in terms of R&D, trade, and imperial claims. Almost every so-called political and revolutionary “spring” has resulted in more authoritarianism. Communism, once almost completely discredited, is being taken seriously again, even as the quasi-communist states of Venezuela and Nicaragua brutalize their own despondent citizens. The justifications for communism are old, the excuses are old, but the proponents of the heinous ideology tend to be young, intelligent, well-meaning, but devoid of wisdom.
The United States—once somewhat a measure of stability in the world—has become unwieldy abroad, with troops bogged down in endless war in bizarre and untenable corners of the world, while our own actual southern border becomes more and more indefensible, violent, and unstable. Our American combat troops are certainly noble and should be praised for their honor and their devotion to duty, but the leadership of the American empire has proven time and again since 1991 not merely ineffective in any long-term meaningful way, but also as power-hungry as the Soviet empire once was. Indeed, that American military bases now reside atop deserted Soviet bases in Afghanistan should tell us everything. Yet, we Americans mostly don’t think about it. We have no real exit strategy, and we have no real goal, other than to continue to wage war. The American founders such as Washington and Jefferson understood that we must—like the Christian church of old—never tie our fortunes to the fate of another people, but we have done just that, over and over, and the result has been not stability but flabbiness.
At home, universities and colleges are worse now than they were even eight years ago. Academic disciplines have become more narrow, more isolated, and more out of touch with reality. The articles and books that academia promotes have become little more than con-games, and poorly written ones at that. The liberal arts have become a joke at almost every institution of higher education, while the average student seeks not truth but training en route to a higher-paying job. Even so-called conservatives have become more mocking not just of the liberal arts as they are, but even as they once were. Mediocrity and populism have pervaded the academy to an insane degree.
Most disturbingly—at least, it should be for the reader of The Imaginative Conservative—what we once mocked as “political correctness” in the late 1980s and early 1990s has become orthodoxy for much of American culture. Far from being more humane, the average American from any part of the political spectrum (if such a thing even exists) thinks now in terms of race and gender. The third of the wicked triumvirate, class, has been discredited in general, as there can really be no poor whites, as all whites enjoy “privilege.” In all of this, of course, we Americans have fortified bigotry and our unholy biases, not eased them. If there exists in any part of mainstream America—from religion to politics to entertainment to education—an actual belief in the traditional virtues, the universality of the human person, or the idea of sacrificing for the res publica (the common good; the republic), I have yet to rediscover it. (I exempt the members of the armed forces and many of the clergy in this claim). There are niches and crannies and nooks, of course, but they are viciously under assault. On the streets of America, we now see more violence than at any time since 1968, we are probably far more racist and racialist than we were in 1959, and our solutions at the moment are not about unifying, but rather about dividing as we strategize ways to run away to our bunkers to weather the cultural storm. St. Benedict might approve, but St. Francis most certainly would not.
On the fortieth anniversary of publication of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury lamented that political correctness was making inroads in American culture. His advice in 1993 and 1994: Fight back immediately. For every inch of ground the PC crowd takes, push them back two inches. If you can, remove them from the stands and stadium all together. Bradbury, of course, had been mocking the “politically correct” since 1950 (see, especially, his chapter, “Usher II” in The Martian Chronicles of 1950).
There are, to my mind, several important reasons why The Imaginative Conservative has succeeded over eight years. I’ll offer a mere five. First, it speaks not loudly, but it does speak rather directly. Take a look at the essays of the past eight years. There’s almost no topic left uncovered, and, in each of those conversations, the author speaks directly to the reader. Not above him, or below him, or next to him—but to him. Second, The Imaginative Conservative has never taken political correctness seriously, while it has at the same time respected those who have been deluded by it. Third, it has fought fiercely against those who espouse violence, authoritarianism, political correctness, heresy, and empire, but it has always done so in a faithful, humane, and often humorous manner. Fourth, The Imaginative Conservative never hides in the safety of its bunker. It has rejected such an option. Instead, it has presented itself to the public, calling for sanity and wisdom, not emotion and prejudice. Fifth, it has never served as the mouthpiece for any person or any ideology. Instead, it has been principled, but never conformist. The authors associated with The Imaginative Conservative seek neither victory nor uniformity. They do, however, seek truth.
Thus, we come to the title of the present essay, “These too shall pass.” Insanity, division, and violence are always temporary manifestations of a confused people. Yet, because human nature never changes, the insanity, the division, and the violence are always present or, at least, always nearly so. But, so is wisdom, so is principle, and so is truth. Violence is particular, but truth is universal. Even though we see all things through a glass darkly, we do continue to see unless we blind ourselves. The Imaginative Conservative has never once proclaimed originality. Rather, it has proclaimed that true and abiding things exist, untouched by the mockery or ignorance of man. There are things that always exist, but are often forgotten. Sometimes the most important thing a single individual (or even a small community of individuals) can do is simply remind another of a truth long forgotten or distorted. The writers of The Imaginative Conservative have dedicated the last eight years to calling us…to remember. No bunkers, just the arena.
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