It’s understandable why social conservatives might view the contemporary situation with chagrin. I will not deny it; nor do I feel the need to list our cultural ills. We know them all too well.
Still, I remain unchanged in the conviction that conservatism is not best defined by this or that set of policy options, this or that view of taxation, this or that stance on immigration, or what have you. The conservative, as I see it, and despite the various camps and schools, is grounded, and immovably so, in gratitude. Gratitude that we exist, that mothers bore and nursed us, fathers loved mothers, ancestors kept the faith, the wise of the past formed society and law and order. Gratitude for an inheritance of art, music, literature, schools, and teachers. The world is imperfect, and, yet, there is so much that is fair and wondrous, with a freshness deep down things that cannot be erased or vanquished. Things are so good, or at least so much better than they might be, and what, after all, have we done to deserve all of this?
Gratitude for the good we enjoy gives reason to hope for what will be. Too often, I fear, conservatives can seem panicked, curmudgeonly, angry, embroiled in internecine spats and tiffs, and—far too often—viewed for what we are against. But our deepest certainty is that we enjoy so many benefits, and thus have grounds to build in hope that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will exist, have mothers who nursed them, fathers who loved their mothers, and—we pray—ancestors who kept the faith.
Hope can seem trite, even saccharine. It isn’t. Hope is a reasonable anticipation that order persists, liberty endures, and that we are kept with far fonder a care than we can imagine.
In this collection from the archives we remember essays on hope. As spring settles in, with ball games and tulips and dogwoods in bloom, it pays to turn off the news, to ignore the blather and chatter and anger. We should remember that we conservatives are deeply at home in the goodness of the world, and that there is goodness in so many places, and in so many people, if only we would attend to the goodness which surrounds and holds us in its care. There is a season for everything, including a season of hopefulness for life and its promise.
First, an essay of my own, a new year’s resolution for a quiet hope. Despair is tempting; do not give in. I’ve grateful to the work of Josef Pieper on hope, and to Casey Chalk’s study of Pieper and a hope transcending mere politics. But hope is no irrelevant to politics, as noticed by Stefan McDaniel in a fine review of Alan Mittleman’s book, Hope in a Democratic Age.
If anyone understood the joy of hope, it was Alice von Hildebrand, who has recently passed. Her joy is captured by Gabrielle Girgis in a review of Hildebrand’s memoirs. In keeping with the paradox of joy in the face of pain and death, Katerina Levinson recently discussed the case for hope through the eyes of Dostoevsky.
Finally, I point you to the very first essay of Public Discourse where Ryan Anderson articulated our vision and commitment. It remains possible, despite what some think, to reason together, to deliberate calmly and kindly, without snark or personal attack or hatred, even about the most difficult questions of our common life. Public discourse is not a mere wish, not an empty dream, but something to hope for, something to work towards.
Thanks for reading Public Discourse. Please don’t give up hope.