From Russell Kirk's 1981 essay "The Moral Imagination."
"Every major form of literary art has taken for its deeper themes the norms of human nature. What Eliot calls "the permanent things" - the norms, the standards - have been the concern of the poet ever since the time of Job, or ever since Homer: "the blind man who sees," sang of the wars of the gods with men. Until very recent years, men took it for granted that literature exists to form the normative consciousness - that is, to teach human beings their true nature, their dignity, and their place in the scheme of things. Such was the endeavor of Sophocles and Aristophanes, of Thucydides and Tacitus, of Plato and Cicero, of Hesiod and Vergil, of Dante and Shakespeare, of Dryden and Pope.
The very phrase "humane letters" implies that great literature is meant to teach us what it is to be fully human...."
"Now I do not mean that the great writer incessantly utters homilies. With Ben Jonson, he may "scourge the naked follies of the time," but he does not often murmur, "Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever." Rather, the man of letters teaches the norms of our existence through allegory, analogy, and holding up the mirror to nature. The writer may, like William Faulkner, write much more of what is evil than of what is good; and yet, exhibiting the depravity of human nature, he establishes in his reader's mind the awareness that there exist enduring standards from which we fall away; and that fallen human nature is an ugly sight.
Or the writer may deal, as did J. P. Marquand, chiefly with the triviality and emptiness of a society that has forgotten standards. Often, in his appeal of a conscience to a conscience, he may row with muffled oars; sometimes he may be aware only dimly of his normative function. The better the artist, one almost may say, the more subtle the preacher. Imaginative persuasion, not blunt exhortation, commonly is the method of the literary champion of norms..."
Read in full, and discuss.