The Moral Imagination

All great systems, ethical or political, attain their ascendancy over the minds of men by virtue of their appeal to the imagination; and when they cease to touch the chords of wonder and mystery and hope, their power is lost, and men look elsewhere for some set principles by which they may be guided.
                             — Russell Kirk
I picked up Charles Colson’s “Against the Night” again last night.  I’ve read it before and it is even more relevant today than it was in 1989 when it was first published.  Carl F. H.
Henry, to whom the book was dedicated, wrote on the back “With courage for the times, Colson spurs Christians to renewed engagement in a society now pagan-tilted and growing ‘accustomed to the dark.'”
From the chapter “The Moral Imagination”:
    Societies are not held together by rules and laws; order cannot be enforced by swords or guns alone.  People must find their motivation and meaning in powerful ideas–beliefs that justify their institutions and ideals.
    To put it another way, societies are legitimized by “myth,” using the word not to connote fictions peopled by unconventional characters, but in the sense of grand images, ideas, and words with the emotion and power that “inspire[s] people to acts of commitment and sacrifice–in the extreme case, even the sacrifice of life itself.” (Peter Berger)…
    Men and women will live and die for ideas, images, and visions like this.  “The real conflict in our age is between opposing types of imagination–or, to speak more accurately, among a variety of types of imagination..,” says Russell Kirk. ” We may perceive there, competing, the moral illusions of the fanatic ideologue, the bleary-eyed voluptuary, and the militant atheist.  So the great contest in these declining years of the twentieth century is not for human economic interest, or for human political preferences, or even for human minds–not at bottom.  The true battle is being fought in the Debatable Land of the human imagination.  Imagination does rule the world.”…
   Changing the habits of a darkening age may require something far grander than our individual efforts…It may require …”the moral imagination,” an Edmund Burke phrase filtered to me through Russell Kirk: “It is a man’s power to perceive ethical truth, abiding law…Without the moral imagination, man would live merely from day to day, or rather moment to moment, as dogs do.  It is the strange facility…of discerning greatness, justice, and order, beyond the bars of appetite and self-interest…It is the combined product of intuition, instinct, imagination and long and intricate experience.”…
    I cannot in a few brief paragraphs launch a single-handed recovery of the moral imagination.  But I will venture to suggest a few things that might form the parameters of a new vision.
   First, we must reassert a sense of shared destiny as an antidote to radical individualism…
   Second, we must adopt a strong, balanced view of the inherent dignity of human life…
   Third, we must recover respect for tradition and history.

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