The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

April 24, 2019

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What are the first principles of a free and humane society?

Since World War II, there has been a rebirth of conservative thought in America, beginning with pioneers such as William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Friedrich Hayek, Whittaker Chambers, Frank Meyer, and Irving Kristol, and culminating with the electoral triumph of President Ronald Reagan in 1980. Today, the conservative “movement” enjoys both political prominence and a sturdy institutional infrastructure of political organizations, charitable foundations, think tanks, publishing houses, magazines and journals, and other such entities. Because of the movement’s success, a growing number of ambitious students and young professionals are now attracted to careers that advance the conservative cause.

Unfortunately, many of conservatism’s elder statesmen have expressed a grave concern that the rising generation is not well grounded in the fundamental texts, arguments, ideas, and themes that originally inspired the movement. Lacking a firm foundation in first principles, responsible and reflective citizenship is impossible, since we are tossed about by the enthusiasms of the day. Conservative “talking heads” in the electronic media may be effective political combatants, but their short-term goals—winning votes, passing legislation, boosting ratings—often work against the more important goal of cultivating, exploring, and developing conservative principles in light of changing historical circumstances.

With this challenge in mind, ISI offers here six new online “short courses” that will definitively orient readers to the first principles, questions, debates, and issues involved in six broad categories of conservative inquiry. At the heart of each course is an “orientation” essay. These essays, carefully crafted with the aid of leading scholars, introduce the matter at hand and include hyperlinks to dozens of ISI and other resources. Each course also includes annotated syllabi of recommended readings, a dedicated online discussion forum, and directions on how to access ISI’s hundreds of related online lectures, books, and journal articles, as well as other features.

In order to know where we should be going, we need first to learn where we have been. That is the goal of these “short courses.” Let the learning begin!

Western Civilization

The American Experience

Free Markets & Civil Society

America's Security

American Conservative Thought

Higher Education and the Liberal Arts

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Please direct all inquiries regarding First Principles to [email protected].