July 17, 2018

WAIT, THERE'S NOTHING THERE ABOUT BEING EMOTIONAL AND HYSTERICAL:

The Moral Imagination & Imaginative Conservatism: a review of The Moral Imagination: From Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling, by Gertrude Himmelfarb  (Eva Brann, 7/17/18, Imaginative Conservative)

What they all have in common is a "moral imagination" (a term introduced by Edmund Burke) and their distinctive varieties of conservatism. There are, for example, the new-fangled middle-class Tories, men who begin to be called Conservatives in the 1830s--"Tory men and Whig measures" as Disraeli, himself an old-fashioned Tory, defines them in his novel Coningsby. In his Tory adherence, Disraeli makes a pair with John Buchan. (It is a delight to learn something of the dark complexity of Buchan, whose adventure stories have given me such acute pleasure, which I had ascribed to a residual juvenility in me.)

The moral imagination seems to run not incidentally but necessarily in tandem with a certain aspect of conservatism, what I think of as "imaginative conservatism." For "moral imagination," as contrasted with, say, "social conscience," is the representation to oneself of concretely visualized human conditions and consequences, as opposed to ideal rational constructions abstracted from living detail. But this imagination, the kind that is affirmingly receptive rather than strenuously constructive, is fed by remembered experience, be it worldly or fictive, and that means, in turn, that it is inevitably past-nurtured. Oakeshott, the most single-minded and most recent representative of this way of being, whose pairable predecessor is Burke, says:

The disposition to be conservative is, then, warm and positive in respect of enjoyment, and correspondingly cool and critical in respect of change and innovation; these two motivations support and elucidate each other.

Gertrude Himmelfarb is very far from being an ideological schoolmarm, but I wonder whether there is not lurking in these essays a gentle lesson to her fellow conservatives: If you mean to capture hearts rather than rouse anger, cultivate the imaginative kind of conservatism and its language.



Posted by at July 17, 2018 4:14 AM

  

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