Skip to content

It's Just My Imagination

In the second volume of lectures published posthumously as Redeeming the Time, Russell Kirk celebrates the workings of the moral imagination (the power of ethical perception) and contrasts it with the idyllic imagination (the fanciful imagination of people like Rousseau) and the diabolic imagination (the imagination which delights in the perverse and subhuman).

The three types of imagination are vastly different, but different in the sense that any tool can be used for good, bad, or inane purposes. The hammer can be used to build a house, to juggle, or to kill somebody. The imaginative faculty that creates Superman and Gandalf also produces innovative forms of torture and pornography.

The imagination is critical to our everyday existence. The leisurely moments that give play to imagination bleed into every hour of the day, helping to shape them, influencing our decisions. In the words of Henry Osborn Taylor about medieval chivalry: “For final exemplification of the actual and the ideally real in chivalry, the reader may look within himself, and observe the inextricable mingling of the imaginative and the real. He will recognize that what at one time seems part of his imagination, at another will prove itself the veriest reality of his life.”

The imagination always exerts itself in real life, hopefully for the better through use of the moral imagination. But if a person indulges the diabolic imagination–repeatedly entertaining the darkest imaginations–those imaginations will eventually become real, often with a devastating flash which burns into another's life and tears the fabric of society. The psychotic rapist or child molester is often no more than a man who has let his imagination explore the depths of depravity.