The Historical Mind

Humanistic Renewal in a Post-Constitutional Age

Edited by Justin D. Garrison & Ryan R. Holston

Subjects: Political Theory, Politics, Philosophy, Democracy, American History
Paperback : 9781438478425, 326 pages, January 2021
Hardcover : 9781438478432, 326 pages, May 2020

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Table of contents



Part I: The New Humanism

1. What I Believe: Rousseau and Religion
Irving Babbitt

2. Power without Limits: The Allure of Political Idealism and the Crumbling of American Constitutionalism
Claes G. Ryn

Part II: Culture and Imagination

3. Russell Kirk and the Romance of Babbittianism
Bradley J. Birzer

4. The Pillars of Hercules: Babbitt, Warren, and the Dangers of Scientific Naturalism
Justin D. Garrison

5. Luminosity, Imagination, Truth: On Voegelin and Ryn
S. F. McGuire

Part III: Ethics and Character

6. Politics, Moral Judgment, and the Enlightenment Project
William F. Byrne

7. Natural Law, the Moral Imagination, and Prudent Exceptions
Robert C. Koons

8. Irving Babbitt and Christianity: A Response to T. S. Eliot
Ryan R. Holston

Part IV: America and Constitutional Spirit

9. Can Constitutions Preserve the Engendering Experiences of Order?
Michael P. Federici

10. On the Moral Necessity of Constitutionalism: Claes Ryn and Ethical Democracy
Bruce P. Frohnen

Part V: America, Humanism, and the World

11. "Let Things Be Called by Their Right Names": Difference as Constraint in American Exceptionalism
Richard M. Gamble

12. A Little Place and a Big Idea: The Temptation to Imperialism and the Loss of Republicanism
Justin B. Litke

13. Resistance and Renewal: Irving Babbitt and China
Zhang Yuan and Justin D. Garrison



Timely and provocative asessment of various cultural, moral, and political problems in "post-constitutional" America.


America is increasingly defined not only by routine disregard for its fundamental laws, but also by the decadent character of its political leaders and citizens—widespread consumerism and self-indulgent behavior, cultural hedonism and anarchy, the coarsening of moral and political discourse, and a reckless interventionism in international relations. In The Historical Mind, various scholars argue that America's problems are rooted in its people's refusal to heed the lessons of historical experience and to adopt "constitutional" checks or self-imposed restraints on their cultural, moral, and political lives. Drawing inspiration from the humanism of Irving Babbitt and Claes G. Ryn, the contributors offer a timely and provocative assessment of the American present and contend that only a humanistic order guided by the wisdom of historical consciousness has genuine promise for facilitating fresh thinking about the renewal of American culture, morality, and politics.

Justin D. Garrison is Associate Professor of Political Science at Roanoke College and the author of "An Empire of Ideals": The Chimeric Imagination of Ronald Reagan. Ryan R. Holston is Professor and Jonathan Myrick Daniels '61 Chair for Academic Excellence at Virginia Military Institute.


"The Historical Mind, while open-ended, is surprisingly coherent and complete. Each of the sections contains chapters that outline the essential perspectives and issues surrounding the historical mind and its humanist way of thinking and being. Each is thought-provoking and, like the Babbitt/Ryn humanist project as a whole, each is an invitation to further inquiry and interlocution." — The University Bookman

"At a moment when it seems like the very fabric of Western civilization is being set on fire, Garrison and Holston's volume creatively and carefully delivers a much-needed dose of historically informed sanity. It belongs on the shelf of anyone searching for a measured response to our times, and for those who believe a Burkean conservatism for the twenty-first century is needed to avoid the horrors of the twentieth." — Law & Liberty

"The Historical Mind is an extremely ambitious book, attempting to elevate historicist humanism to a place of prominence in the American intellectual consciousness when it has, for decades, been largely ignored. It also seeks to restore the nation to a more proper course than the one it is on." — The Imaginative Conservative

"'What communism, Nazism, and progressivism share in common is a rejection of the moral realism that inspired and justified the development of limited government.' That lapidary statement typifies the depth and clarity of this remarkable collaborative effort. Its diverse authors reacquaint readers with the moral imaginations of such giants as Edmund Burke, John Quincy Adams, Russell Kirk, Robert Penn Warren, Eric Voegelin, Irving Babbitt, and Claes Ryn. How refreshing it is in today's academy to hear 'Let things be called by their right names!'" — Walter A. McDougall, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, University of Pennsylvania

"By exploring what humanistic renewal might entail, this book offers judicious and insightful perspectives about what the past teaches us about the limits of human beings in society and how to be prudent within the context of universal morality given these limitations." — James A. Todd, Palm Beach Atlantic University