by Kevin Ritter
In a recent issue of the Pirate, I described Edmund Burke’s notion of Moral Imagination and how that attribute was shared by many of the great minds of the western tradition. I described Burke’s belief that student’s can best acquire this trait through the study of great literature. I suggested the new Common Core Standards would inhibit the development of this important quality by limiting the study of classical literature in favor of non-fiction “informational texts.”
Today, I would extend that argument to suggest that by intentionally restricting access to the historical notions of eternal Truth and Beauty found in classical literature, schools that adopt the Common Core will leave young people susceptible to the development of the Moral Imagination’s ugly siblings, what Burke called the Idyllic and Diabolic Imaginations.
Burke described the Idyllic Imagination as a mental disposition that inclines one to reject recognized dogmas or rules as well as established manners. He saw this form of imagination as destructive rather than constructive, seeking the “liberty from” something rather than the “liberty to” something. In an American context, this generally means liberty from those duties that are married to each of the rights we enjoy as citizens. Furthermore, because the Idyllic Imagination has no unifying principle, Burke reasoned, it is a destabilizing force in society. It leads to disillusion, boredom, and decadence, qualities in evidence during the recent Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
Still worse is what Burke calls the Diabolic Imagination which, when cultivated, panders to the “lowest human urges for violence, destruction, cruelty, and sensational disorder.” Unfortunately, it is this attribute that informs much of our entertainment industry and the tech-savvy internet world today. As an essentially anarchical trait it has historically been the driving force behind violent revolution and social upheaval. GK Chesterton saw the Diabolic Imagination at work in the barbarism of Prussian society on the eve of WWI and it was starkly apparent in the recent Boston bombings.
Parents and teachers who understand the traditional purpose for studying great literature is to form the Moral Imagination (by accessing notions of objective Truth and Beauty as well as well as the collected wisdom of the ages) should be left with a healthy sense of skepticism regarding the motivations of the educational faddists who would seek to impede this study. Only the most callous activists, blinded by political ideology or egotism, would knowingly seek to separate young people from the benefits of their rich cultural inheritance.