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Editor’s Note

Awakening the Moral Imagination

Fall 1999

If the events of the past year have demonstrated anything it is the moral and intellectual impoverishment of the American people. From Monica to Littleton the tragic consequences of this fact have been played out on a dizzying scale. Sadly, the road back from Avernus is long and arduous. Moral character and habits of responsible freedom require vision and discipline. As Irving Babbitt observed, "The basis for right conduct is not reasoning but experience, and experience much wider than that of the individual, the secure possession of which can result only from the early acquisition of right habits." One way to begin instilling right habits and nurturing young imaginations is through classic literature. Good stories help to widen our store of experience. They clarify vision and inspire discipline through the presentation of attractive and compelling examples of character and responsible behavior. This is all too lacking in our nation’s schools and curricula, to say nothing of the images that permeate popular culture.

Two recent books aimed at filling this void are Vigen Guroian’s Tending the Heart of Virtue and Louise Cowen and Os Guinness’ Invitation to the Classics. Gilbert Meilaender considers Guroian’s insightful reading of classic children’s stories, and, more generally, "the significance of stories for the moral life." Amy Fahey highlights the strengths and weaknesses of Drs. Cowen and Guinness’ collection of literary classics oriented toward stirring belief in the common reader.

Also in this University Bookman, David Whalen and William Hay turn a critical eye toward major new works by Harold Bloom and Daniel Boorstin, while David Bobb applauds the efforts of two prominent civil libertarians to shine a light in the dark corridors of today’s "shadow university." This number concludes with examinations of three figures whose imaginative output offer prophetic insight and present a compelling vision of the good—C. S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, and, perhaps surprisingly, Vincent van Gogh.

The Editors

Posted: March 29, 2007 in Editor’s Notes.

The moral imagination is the principal possession that man does not share with the beasts. It is man’s power to perceive ethical truth, abiding law, in the seeming chaos of many events. Without the moral imagination, man would live merely day to day, or rather moment to moment, as dogs do. It is the strange faculty—inexplicable if men are assumed to have an animal nature only—of discerning greatness, justice, and order, beyond the bars of appetite and self-interest.

Russell Kirk, Enemies of the Permanent Things, 1969

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