To my mind, these voices have never been more needed and more relevant. A humanist but certainly no conservative, George Orwell once famously remarked, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
In this fine Orwellian tradition, it is worth remembering three things, each of which reminds us what it means to conserve our most cherished traditions—that is, to be a traditional conservative—even in a time of chaos.
First and foremost, we must remember that every single person is an unrepeatable center of dignity and freedom, each a moral and ethical agent, endowed with free will, and born in a certain time and certain place, never to be repeated. Life matters, and it is a precious gift every single time it appears. That is, each person is a unique reflection of the Infinite, a bearer of the Imago Dei, and a Temple of the Holy Spirit. No matter how much corruption a person puts on during this lifetime, he or she remains precious, at least at the heart of things. For even the most corrupt human being has within him the spark of divine grace, no matter how close to being smothered that spark is. “In Him, we move and live and have our being,” the Stoics and St. Paul assured us
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/04/what-remains-conservatism-bradley-birzer.html
Shortly after Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany for its atrocious invasion of Poland in 1939, one of the lesser-known Inklings, Owen Barfield (1898-1997; yes, Barfield lived to just short of his 100th birthday) offered a profound analysis on the way community works and on the way it should work. All of society, he noted with no small amount of poetic insight, arises from our associations and friendships and communities that bridge our individuality with our nationality. Being too much of an individual leads to the tyranny of the self, and being too much of a nationalist leads to a tyranny of others. Instead, the human person must find his or her context and serve within the bounds of overlapping and competing communities, friendships, and associations. Or, as Barfield so eloquently put it, we must “build up and maintain a common stock of thought rather than… startle with a series of sparkling individual contributions—like a commonwealth of the spirit, in which there is no copyright.”
Yet, to create a commonwealth of the soul, or, more directly, a republic of letters, we do need to know the limits and range of individualism as well as the limits and range of national character. As Barfield understood creation, there is nothing wrong with individuals bringing their unique and particular talents to the community. Indeed, to bring one’s excellences to the community is vital to the health of all involved. In so doing, not only do individual persons contribute to the common good, but they themselves discover through free will the virtues, especially that of charity, in dealing with others. Like all things, though, individuality can become perverted, a sort of self-absorption that demands that our fellow members of the community reflect us rather than reflect what they are meant to be (by God or nature). As such, we would become sons of pride rather than of humility.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/owen-barfield-commonwealth-spirit-bradley-birzer.html
Despite having built up a North American following in the 1960s and 1970s, Owen Barfield (1898-1997) could find almost no publication, periodical, or serial to review his 1979 book, History, Guilt, and Habit. Only one academic journal, the Virginia Quarterly Review, even deigned to acknowledge it, and, in one swift paragraph, the journal dismissed the book’s author as “cranky” and the book as meaningful only to right-wing Hegelians.
Based on a set of three lectures delivered in British Columbia in October 1978, History, Guilt, and Habit does the difficult work of attempting to understand the deepest meanings of history and its relation to the human person. Throughout the lectures, Barfield very capably—indeed, with uncanny precision and a seemingly never-ending bulwark of contexts—defines terms such as history, evolution, consciousness, perception, thinking, and, most importantly, imagination. History, Barfield contends, is something quite different from evolution as it is a “consciously directed process,” as opposed to the mere passive accumulation of change and events. Through his definitions, Barfield is especially interested in identifying those things that allow us to make free decisions and act rather than being merely acted upon. “Perception,” for example, “is essentially a passive experience, something that happens to us; thinking is an active one, something we do.” Yet, Barfield cautions, one should never fall into the Manichaean habit of dividing all things into opposites. Some of the most interesting aspects in humanity and in human society come from the overlapping—or interpenetration—of opposites
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/owen-barfield-history-guilt-and-habit-bradley-birzer.html
Between 1629 and 1640, roughly 21,000 Puritans (and servants) immigrated from England (especially East Anglia) to New England. This was one of the four great free folk migrations of the colonial period, along with the Anglicans to Virginia and the Chesapeake, the Quakers to Pennsylvania and Delaware, and the Scotch-Irish to various parts of English colonies.
More than any other colonial group, the Puritans (formally known as Congregationalists) moved in familial groups, and the nuclear family stood as the most important social institution, outside of the Congregation itself.
The Puritans demanded great rigor from their church members, and most residents of New England belonged to some church, especially in the seventeenth century. Five ideas held the Congregationalists together: the depravity of man, the covenant that held all together in this fallen world, that God chose His elect, that all good comes from Grace, and that men and women must love one another.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/john-winthrop-imaginative-conservative-bradley-birzer.html
Indeed, as I look at NR today, she remains a constant companion, even when I disagree with her (as friends sometimes do). Writers such as Jack, John Miller, Kyle Smith, Kathryn Lopez, and others keep alive Buckley’s wondrous and gregarious spirit. From its beginnings in 1955, NR has sought to build up conservatism rather than tear it apart. Building, as we all know, is difficult; destruction is easy.
As I continue to get my NR “breaking news” updates, read her editorials on this or that political or cultural atrocity, devour Jack’s Saturday emails, buy the newest books recommended by her, and listen to her many podcasts, I’m honored by her friendship and happily acknowledge her just and worthy mission.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/william-f-buckley-mischievous-national-review-magazine-bradley-birzer.html
More ominously, we still have no idea whether far more have died due to the lockdowns than to the virus itself—given the quarantines have caused greater familial, spousal, and substance abuse, suicides, impoverishment, missed surgeries and medical procedures, educational deprivation, and long-term psychological damage. Amid this void of knowledge, state and local officials have often claimed expertise and implemented Draconian measures that may well have made things far worse.
— Read on amgreatness.com/2020/12/20/covid-woke-science-and-death/
The Stoics—who inherited so much from the pre-Socratics and from Socrates—wrestled repeated and incessantly (but not fruitlessly) over the issue of free will. If everything had a nature and if everything moral and just came from the right ordering of the universe, one must learn to conform to eternal dictates. Did these dictates harm or encourage our free will? Some Stoics were predestinarians, while others believed in the sovereign individual will choosing to become one with the Natural Law and the Heraclitan Logos. To be sure, all Stoics believed that any violation of the Natural Law was a sin, a violation against creation herself.
The next great moral treatises on free will can be found in Cicero’s On Duties and On the Laws. In the former, Cicero claimed, like Socrates had, that all decisions come down to the individual human person, either abiding by eternal moral laws or rejecting them. Cicero advocated for understanding and acknowledging what was eternally true, especially through manners and decorum. In the latter work, On the Laws, Cicero argued that all things are beholden to eternal truths, but they understand those eternal truths through the exercise of reason, which is the language of man to man, man to god, and god to god. It is, for all intents and purposes, the language of civility and order, that which binds the universe together in justice.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/12/free-will-bradley-birzer.html
My hardback biography of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, is on sale for only $6.25! Great stocking stuffers for the whole family.
Big Tech want to impose upon us all a kind of insane and inhumane conformity. Yet, the critical point is that they do not impose themselves upon us as much as we let them impose themselves upon us. So, the most important thing we can do is exit… (essay by Bradley J. Birzer)
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/11/exiting-big-tech-bradley-birzer.html
Thousands Upon Thousands of Words Later: A Personal Reflection on Writing ~ The Imaginative Conservative
As it turns out, I’m typing this essay on my latest acquisition, the Freewrite Traveler from Astrohaus. I actually helped crowdfund it back in late 2018, but it’s just now coming to market. It’s one sleek device, healthy for the hands and the mind. And, because there’s no access to Facebook, email, Twitter, or any other myriad distractions, healthy for the soul. The keyboard, though not exactly mechanical, is truly a thing of wonder. Indeed, to imagine this Traveler, think of a normal-sized keyboard attached to your Kindle. This is essentially what the Traveler is. It’s supposed to stay charged for several weeks (I’ve not had my long enough to verify this), and it’s the most portable device I own now—except for my Kindle.
Again, though, with the Traveler, there are no distractions from the internet or any part of the internet. It’s just you, a keyboard, and a screen. The Traveler automatically saves your work, and you, when ready, send it to your email account by simply hitting the “send” button. Astrohaus claims this setup allows for one to overcome writer’s block. Honestly, this claim seems totally weird to me. Facebook doesn’t block me from writing; it distracts me from writing. Or, to be more blunt, I let it distract me.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/11/thousands-upon-thousands-words-later-personal-reflection-writing-bradley-birzer.html
For Tolkien, mythology touched the deepest part of our souls, and invites us to explore the beauty of creation and to discover and participate in the sacramental nature of life. Only in the True West could one find a proper understanding of order, virtue, and liberty. As Tolkien himself said, the mythology and purpose guiding The Lord of the Rings was nothing less than the return to Christendom. His Middle-earth mythology, he hoped, would serve as a wake-up call for the West, to return it to its pre-statist, pre-imperialist, pre-materialist phase. With the return of Aragorn the king, the “progress of the tale ends in what is far more like the re-establishment of an effective Holy Roman Empire with its seat in Rome,” Tolkien admitted in 1967.
Certainly Tolkien, as with most of the Augustinian Christian Humanists, had a Jacobite streak.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/11/christian-humanism-j-r-r-tolkien-bradley-birzer.html
Tocqueville on America’s Colonial Experience & the Seeds of Democracy ~ The Imaginative Conservative
Though diverse, the American colonists had more in common with one another than not. Overwhelmingly Protestant, they also spoke the same language, and “the bond of language is perhaps the strongest and most durable that can unite men,” Tocqueville claimed. Further, the colonists all came from the Reformational troubles of Europe, and they “were all children of the same people.” Finally, the wilderness of North America homogenized the colonists, and “their political education was shaped in this rude school, and you saw more notions of rights, more principles of true liberty spread among them than among most of the peoples of Europe.”
Equally important, the American colonies—both North and South—proved that colonization could happen successfully even when haphazardly planned, or even when there had been a complete lack of planning. Drawing upon the work of Adam Smith, Tocqueville continued, the imperial pursuit of mineral wealth had led to nothing but societal catastrophe. “At this time, Europe was still singularly preoccupied with the idea that mines of gold and silver constituted the wealth of peoples,” Tocqueville claimed. “This destructive idea has done more to impoverish the European nations that embraced it and, in America, has destroyed more men than war and all bad laws put together.”
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/11/tocqueville-america-colonial-experience-seeds-democracy-bradley-birzer.html