McClay’s point is relevant to the way many latter-day American conservatives regard storytelling. To recognize that worldviews inhere in stories is not the same as believing that they simply determine anyone’s worldview. This is because stories work by indirection: not by telling us what to believe but by helping us to experience emotionally and imaginatively what it is like to embody particular ideas.

If story is true to human experience, there will be an element of ambiguity in the telling, and this is something ideologues of all stripes—from postmodernists in English departments to Christians of the sort who chastised Flannery O’Connor for not telling “nice” stories—cannot abide.

This is why Mattix, who trained in economics before studying literature in graduate school, believes that a properly understood conservatism—one thinks of Kirk’s observation that conservatism is “the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order”—has far more in common with literary art than many people think.

“At its root, conservatism acknowledges that humans are selfish with an aptitude for evil,” he says. “This, in my view, is more accurate than progressivism’s belief in the inherent goodness of mankind.” Yet with the culture war having turned so decisively against conservatives, perhaps it’s not surprising if a besieged minority fears it cannot afford the luxury of ambiguity.