Via Matthew Milliner's terrific post yesterday, I came across a seven-part series about the relationship between beauty and conservatism, Art and Beauty Against the Politicized Aesthetic, by the young scholar and poet James Matthew Wilson. He studied under the late Thomist scholar Ralph McInerny, whom Jody Bottum kindly remembered in our pages, and is largely inspired by the thought of Jacques Maritain, who, as Milliner points out, is becoming a bit more in vogue these days. Katie Kresser, for instance, has argued for a Maritainian approach to making art in IMAGE. (A good place to start in reading Maritain is Art and Scholasticism, a book Flannery O'Connor read and reread and had several copies of to give to those who visited her for tea and discussion at Andalusia.)
Milliner sums up Wilson's series by saying:
Conservative thought is captive today to what Wilson names a “politicized aesthetic,” but it was not always so captive. Wilson calls for us to “retranslate Kalon,” that is, to widen our capacity for what the beautiful entails. The task should come naturally to conservatives, for to examine Anglo-American political discourse is to conclude that “conservative thought was born of beauty."
Wilson ends up echoing Burke often, finding that beauty and politics go hand in hand. He writes in the final section:
No society can understand itself without understanding and seeking its proper form ... and so no society can exist without being graspable primarily in terms of beauty. ... Such was the insight of Edmund Burke and of the conservative tradition to which he was inadvertent godfather. To preserve and reform political forms according to a vision of beauty has been the call of every true conservative. If that summons has too frequently sounded narrow, even monotone, and so failed to register on as wide a range of sensibilities as it might have, that has been a problem of aesthetic or metaphysical vision first and only secondarily one of particular policies or practical politics.