California Literary Review

The Conservative Bookshelf by Chilton Williamson, Jr.

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April 24th, 2007 at 5:55 am

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The Conservative Bookshelf
by Chilton Williamson, Jr.
Citadel Press, Kensington Publishing Corp., 329 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★★★

The Wisdom of the West

There is a small cadre of American writers whose gifts and talents are so significant that readers, at least the cognitive ones, are required to procure their latest efforts the moment they come off the press. One such writer is Chilton Williamson of Laramie, Wyoming a former literary and senior editor at Bill Buckley’s National Review, and currently the senior editor for books, and regular columnist, at Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. Mr. Williamson has also penned four nonfiction books and two novels.

It should be noted that Williamson is a veteran of the Jacobin Wars that erupted during the rise of the Reagan Conservatives in the late seventies. That intellectual conflagration pitted the financially well endowed and politically connected neoconservatives and their liberal allies, against the tenacious remnant of the “New Old Right,” known affectionately as the paleoconservatives. The paleocons were denied access to power when William Bennet was selected ahead of the scholarly and brilliant Southern traditionalist, M. E. Bradford, as the Director of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

But, Williamson and his colleagues have continued on in the struggle, though their ranks have been thinned following the internecine bloodings that occurred between the Palecons and their erstwhile allies, the libertarians, and the passing of such stalwart intellects as M. E. Bradford, Russell Kirk, and Murray Rothbard. While the paleocons find themselves in reduced circumstances, their faith is strong, and their determination has not waned. Williamson, a member of the paleocon literati, and a gentleman of American letters, has recently published a new book, The Conservative Bookshelf.

One gets the impression, on reading the text, that the author took delight in stepping back from the issues of the day to tend to the foundation of his intellectual house; that this effort was very much like the layman who seeks out a religious retreat in order to cleanse himself of the debauchery of contemporary life, and reunite his spirit with the Word.

Williamson’s editor required that he select fifty books that best define the “conservative and political movements of our time.” A daunting task, the author informs his readers, but a task solved by selecting six “categories” (religion, politics, society, economics, the prophetic artist, and the present day) in which to locate his version of the best of the conservative canon.

The author’s “Introduction” is worth the price of the book. With an economy of words, expressed in a scintillating, no nonsense prose – yes, he has a clear and succinct point of view, and, no, he does not equivocate – Williamson explains the purpose of his work by defining and delineating “conservatism,” and providing a detailed description of the “appropriation” of conservatism by the neocons – while adding the caveat that the neocons have “redefined, reexplained, and reintroduced (the conservative tradition) in terms acceptable to the political, economic, and ideological establishment.”

He continues with an analysis of the various “branches” of the conservative movement, first by explaining that paleocons, “…persist in keeping the old conservative flame (Christian faith, national sovereignty and cultural identity, federalism, republicanism, restraint of capitalism, community, agrarianism, and homocentric environmentalism) alight…” Further, he elaborates, “Nor is the conservative tradition a narrow and restricted one; instead, it is as broad and varied as life, having all of the life and human experience in it though rooted in a specific culture, that is, Western culture.” Williamson concludes by writing, “Unlike Marxism or even liberalism, conservatism is both a way of life and of thinking about life, what the American novelist, Flannery O’Connor calls a ‘habit of being’…”

Williamson’s introduction is an excellent foundation upon which he constructs his six-layered book. The author provides probing synopsis and insightful explanations of such eclectic works as the the Bible, Democracy in America, God and Man at Yale, The Servile State, The Camp of the Saints, From Union to Empire, and Suicide of the West to name just a few. The author’s ontological reviews objectively examine the works in question offering erudite analysis, which often achieve a certain sublime quality. As an example, in his essay on Burke’s famous treatise he writes, “Reflections of the Revolution in France is a counterrevolutionary cannonball, projected by an almost superhuman compression of the foundational principles and sustaining thought of Western civilization over three millennia and carrying far into the revolutionary nineteenth century-and beyond.”

The Conservative Bookshelf introduces the greatest intellectual and spiritual works of man; it provides a portal to the wisdom of Western civilization and will benefit any American who seeks truth and knowledge.

Chilton Williamson’s, The Conservative Bookshelf, is destined to become an American classic.

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