July 10, 2019


The Imaginative Conservative at 9 (Bradley J. Birzer, July 9th, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

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.

With apologies to Jonah Goldberg, this is the home of the Remnant.

Posted by at July 10, 2019 7:07 AM