Inspired by the writings of Russell Kirk, The Imaginative Conservative’s distinctiveness lies in recognizing that being “conservative” must represent something beyond mere political cravings. If one is to be conservative, one must conserve what deserves to be conserved—all that is best in experience, all that is best in metaphysical desires, and all that is best in the word, reflecting always The Word.
“A conservatism of instinct must be reinforced by a conservatism of thought and imagination”—Russell Kirk, 1957
For nearly a decade (one year less) now, The Imaginative Conservative has been promoting the ideas and ideals of every critical thinker from Heraclitus to T.S. Eliot, from St. Perpetua to St. Thomas More, from Cicero to Frederick Douglass, from Plato to Ray Bradbury, and from Socrates to Eva Brann. For nine years, this journal has done what it can to promote all that is good, all that is true, and all that is beautiful, to cultivate excellence, and, most importantly, to give gravitas to the human experience.
When Winston Elliott and I founded The Imaginative Conservative in 2010, we simply wanted a great conversation among friends who did not—due to circumstances—live in the same geographical area. Could the world-wide web become a kind of tavern, pub, or coffee house? One that could transcend the limitations of space and maybe even time?
Winston alone quickly realized that lots and lots and lots of citizens of the world longed to be a part of this conversation—to listen in, to add their voice, and to be companions on such a trek.
Following upon inspiration from the writings of Russell Kirk, Winston gave this site distinctiveness by recognizing that “conservative” must be something beyond the cravings of Young Republican politicos (though, they’re certainly welcome to join in all aspects of the life of his journal) and that conservatism could and should not be merely about free-market economics and nuclear (and non-nuclear) defenses. That is, Winston understood, if one is to be conservative, one must conserve what deserves to be conserved—all that is best in experience, all that is best in metaphysical desires, and all that is best in the word, reflecting always The Word.
And, today, on day 3,285 of this journal’s existence, we’re still talking, listening, thinking, and imagining.
With the profound success of his dissertation-turned-book, The Conservative Mind, Kirk worried that conservatism might too easily become yet merely one more “ideology” in a world drowning in them. All ideologues, Kirk realized, failed to imagine a world beyond their own egotistical desires. Only imagination allows us to see beyond our own limitations, to place ourselves in the shoes of another, to see beyond the failures and successes of our particular slice of time.
Inspired by Harvard’s Irving Babbitt and Princeton’s Paul Elmer More, Kirk found still more answers and more questions in a transcendent humanism, one that took into account the vast differences of persons while also recognizing the universals that hold all together.
It is imagination, Babbitt knew, that balances our higher understanding (the rationality of the mind) with the lower understanding (the passions of the stomach). The imagination allows us to see that which is not us. Ironically, though the least human aspect of us—the light reflected in our souls—imagination is what allows us to be most human.
“Among those who took up the defense of the traditional order against Rousseau, Burke is easily first, because he too perceived in how own way the truth that cold reason has never done anything illustrious,” Babbitt explained in 1924. Burke “saw that the only conservatism that counts is an imaginative conservatism.” In the twentieth century, Babbitt feared, our modern imagination tended toward disunity and chaos rather than toward unity and order. Progressivism, as such, has only become “novelty and change, with the piling up of discovery on discovery.”
Babbitt’s best friend, Paul Elmer More, made similar observations, noting that a real progress in society demanded two things from each person: restraint of will and generosity of imagination. “The instinctive distrust of uncontrolled human nature and the instinctive reliance on the imagination—are the very roots of the conservative temper, as their contraries are the roots of the liberal and radical temper, the lack of imagination, if any distinction is to be made, being the chief factor of liberalism and confidence in human nature being the main impulse of radicalism.” Properly understood, imagination is “a force for order and self-restraint and political health,” More concluded in 1915.
Kirk’s original title of his dissertation, The Conservatives’ Rout, reveals much. In the early 1950s, he believed both liberalism and conservatism had run their courses, each exhausted and incapable of leading us into the future. It was his unrelenting fortitude, though, that demanded that conservatives (those who believed in the trinity of order, justice, and freedom) recognize the humane as that most vital aspect of any conservatism. His optimism and labor inspired much soul-searching among men and women of good will. “Order, justice, and freedom are not products of nature,” Kirk warned. “On the contrary, they are most artificial and elaborate human contrivances, developed slowly and painfully out of the experience of many generations of men and women.”
This essay is dedicated to the genius of William Winston Elliott III, co-founder, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of The Imaginative Conservative. Long may it continue to grow under his inspiration and our perspiration.
Kirk, of course, never fought the fight alone. Not only did he rely on the inspiration of Babbitt and More, but he took further advice (directly and indirectly) from T.S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Willa Cather, Jacques Maritain, J.R.R. Tolkien, Zora Neale Hurston, Gabriel Marcel, Romano Guardini, Josef Pieper, John Paul II, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, C.S. Lewis, and a myriad of others, all dedicated to preserving and conserving the most dignified aspects of humanity against Demos, Mars, and Leviathan.
After 468 weeks of life, Winston Elliott, Editor Stephen Klugewicz, every author of The Imaginative Conservative, and I take seriously (and with great confidence) the wisdom of our beloved T.S. Eliot: “We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation it will triumph.”
Long may it be so. For nine or ninety-nine more years….
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.
Editor’s Note: The featured image of a two-handed sword, Italy, circa 1623, is courtesy of Wikipedia.