When Winston Elliott and I first started talking about what a proper online conservative journal might look like, way back in the spring and summer of 2010, we decided on a few things. Most importantly, we wanted real diversity of opinion, not the parroting of some ideological drudgeries. As such, we wanted all schools of non-ideological thought to be able to express their views, but we were most taken with the more traditionalist forms of conservatism—especially as represented by Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmer More, T.S. Eliot, Willa Cather, Russell Kirk, and Robert Nisbet. We also desired for there to be real conversation, and, thus, we hoped for longish, thoughtful essays. As The Imaginative Conservative developed, the idea of an imaginative conservatism became, appropriately enough, a school of questions—all of them difficult to answer with any quick summation or hasty thinking. In an attempt, however, to provide something of a catechetical summa, here are the ten most important questions that linger to varying degrees behind every essay published over the last eleven years.
What do we conserve? This has to be the most important question any conservative asks: exactly what needs to be preserved, what needs to be reformed, and what needs to be abolished in regard to the inheritance of the previous generation. Rarely, of course, are there easy answers to these questions, but, if we fail to ask them, we find ourselves in what Owen Barfield said of C.S. Lewis initially—that he was a victim as well as a perpetrator of chronological snobbery.
What do we imagine? Ever since the first among the ancient Greeks, philosophers have recognized that the human person is governed by three faculties: the faculty of intelligent rationality (the mind); the faculty of the passions (the stomach and the nether regions of the human person); and the faculty of the imagination (the soul or the chest). When writing the prologue to his gospel, St. John described the Logos as the “light that lighteth every man.” This is, to be sure, the finest explanation of imagination we possess. It is the Image that is placed and reflected in the human soul, and, ironically, the thing that makes us most human, even though it originates from outside us.
What is time? Time is not merely “one damned thing after another.” It is rather the past, the present, and the future wrapped into one, the clothing of the eternal in the moment. In some way mysterious to our understanding, God has used time (or history) as His vehicle, in part, for redemption. As St. Paul assured us, Jesus did not arrive at any random point, but, rather, came “in the fullness of time.”
What is place? Place or locality—that is, the centering of oneself within the surrounding physical and metaphysical landscape—is a crucial element to proper order in society and to personal habits of being. Whether the county, the town, the college, or the neighborhood, the human person finds his centrality in place.
What is culture? At the heart of the culture, is the cult—that is, a common religious understanding that binds us together as a people. This is often expressed in our liturgies and public dramas, in our arts, and, especially, in our literature. It can also express itself through politics, law, and economics, though we err greatly if we presume that politics, law, and economics can direct the cult.
What is patriotism? Patriotism is the love of that which formed us. In gratitude, we utter our pious thanks to all who came before us and sanctified the soil on which and in which we live. From the earliest inklings of Western Civilization, men have recognized such due loyalty as a virtue. It must not, however, become servile, its natural tendency, especially as human beings have the bad habit of becoming nationalistic rather than patriotic. To be nationalistic is to believe in one’s country no matter her faults; to be patriotic is to love one’s country, despite her faults. Patriotism, properly understood, is more related to the local community than it is to the nation. It is especially close to the association—the family or the church or the college, etc.—to which we belong.
What is Western Civilization? Armed with the religion of Israel, the thought of the Greeks, the governance of the Romans, and the law of the Medievals, and the inspiration and anamnesis of the American Founding, Western Civilization has provided shelter to generations of human continuity. Never perfect, it has—at its best—sought to protect the uniqueness and freedom of each individual.
Who is God? God is the creator, redeemer, and sanctifier of all time, space, and humanity. He is. We, creatures all, are made as finite images, reflecting His eternal and infinite image and—in some way difficult to understand—bearers not just of His image, but of His spirit. It is this image and spirit-bearing capacity that allows us not merely to talk with one another, but, most importantly, to love one another.
What is love? Love is the highest of the seven classical and Christian virtues. It is the ability to give of oneself for another. The highest act of life is to give one’s life for another.
What is virtue? Virtue is the ability to direct, through free will, our three faculties to work for the common good. They are, at least in their classical and Christian form, prudence (the ability to discern good from evil); justice (to give each person his due); temperance (the use of the created goods for the Good); fortitude (the right to do what is right, no matter the cost); faith (the belief in things unseen); hope (the confidence that we matter); and love (see above).
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.
The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.