Eva Brann, National Treasure (Shaun Rieley, January 20th, 2024, Imaginative Conservatism)

In a moment when ideological certainties have usurped both ends of the political spectrum, Ms. Brann takes a more tentative, and, yes, more philosophical tack.

It is important to point out that her conservatism is not, in the first place, political. Rather, it consists in what she calls a “temperamental disposition,” a way of imaginatively addressing oneself to the structure of things. Political positions flow from prudential application of this disposition, but political applications are secondary to a larger appreciation of what is.

This disposition is further clarified in her distinction between “questioning” and “question-asking”: whereas “questioning” is “secular inquisition, sneakily hostile inquiry” whose “intention is to skewer an object and barbecue it,” its contrary “question-asking” is “the central non-technique of reflection,” which “affirms, at least as a starting point, the matter asked after.”

Question-asking, then, begins with the givenness of reality, and an appreciation of its complexity. It is rooted in a humility, yet possessed with a confidence in the ability of human reason to ascertain the nature of things. “The conservative is always in the middle of things,” she says, “betwixt and between, interestedly engaged in the world’s paradoxes and oppositions.” This is the very opposite of ideology, which, wholly uninterested in paradox, begins with outrage at the world as given, and presumes that remaking reality is a simple task involving nothing more than the application of abstract principles.

The Book of Proverbs tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). In other words, wisdom begins in humility, the recognition that one is not the source of one’s own being.

Through her many books and essays, Ms. Brann ably demonstrates this principle in action, thoughtfully engaging great books, questioning various aspects of reality, and always seeking to understand with humility.