Chilton Williamson on Real Conservatism
Rediscovered: The Nation-State In The Western Tradition,
By Chilton Williamson, Jr.]
neither of the two major presidential candidates
excites you very much, maybe you should consider staying
home on Election Day and reading a good book. A good
book to read on that day or others is
Chilton Williamson Jr.`s just-published
The Conservative Bookshelf. Even if you don`t
like it, it will tell you about a lot of other books you
might like better.
The Conservative Bookshelf
is a collection of fairly brief chapters about some 50
classic works of conservatism. "Classic works"
does not include
Rush Limbaugh or
David Frum but real classics by real writers. Mr.
Williamson, the former book review editor at
and current senior editor for books at
Chronicles and the author of several novels and
non-fiction books himself, knows the difference between
a real classic and the mental belches that today often
masquerade as "conservatism."
Hence, what The Conservative
Bookshelf tells us about is what real conservatism
is, and it`s definitely not what the Republican Party is
selling. "High-powered, high-pressured modern society
has largely succeeded in reducing conservatism from a
broadly informed religious, intellectual, moral, and
aesthetic tradition to a narrow and shallow party
politics that often amounts to nothing more than a party
line," Mr. Williamson writes in his introduction.
Republican Party is the present embodiment of this
politics in the United States; yet it has not always
He readily acknowledges that a
Republican political leader like Robert A. Taft—a strong
anti-internationalist—was "the greatest
congressional spokesman in his time for the conservative
But Taft`s days are long gone, as
are those when conservatism was defined by either the
GOP`s "Taft wing" or its intellectual mentors,
most of whose books Mr. Williamson discusses
The conservative classics range
St. Augustine, Cicero and
Edmund Burke to C.S. Lewis and British political
theorist Michael Oakeshott, with chapters on
contemporary figures like
Peter Brimelow and others thrown in (purely in the
interests of full disclosure, I have to admit I`m one of
them). Conspicuous by their absence are the
neo-conservatives who today have come to dominate
what the media define as
Mr. Williamson has reasons for not including
"Neoconservatives are distinguished from traditional
conservatives," he writes, "not least by their
determination to deny notions of peculiar national and
cultural identities, which they seek to replace with the
fantastical one of the
First Universal Nation. Most important,
neoconservatives have relentlessly promoted the
secularization of government and of society to an extent
that is wholly at odds with the explicitly Christian
character of the
He acknowledges that neo-cons have
held some ideas in common with traditional conservatives
and have come up with some interesting policy
discussions, but there`s not much to include from them
in a book like this. At their best, the neo-cons may
know all about the shortcomings of federal urban
policy, but most are neither
very conservative nor very deep.
By now you`re probably catching the
drift of what Mr. Williamson means by "conservatism."
What he means is what is today called "paleo-conservatism,"
and it is called that because what is called
"neo-conservatism" has largely displaced it. Mr.
Williamson`s description of "paleo-conservatism"
is clear enough:
national sovereignty and cultural identity,
federalism, republicanism, restraint of capitalism,
agrarianism, and homocentric
environmentalism." Traditional, paleo or "old
conservatism" is therefore not identical with
libertarianism (which is for unrestrained capitalism and
cares little for community and
cultural identity) or "isolationism."
Indeed, Mr. Williamson suggests
that the very word "conservatism" no longer very
well applies to what he`s talking about. "The primary
distinction within the conservative tradition," he
writes, is "the difference between a conservatism
founded uncompromisingly on eternal principles and the
conservatism that appeals to historical context and the
status quo, prudence and pragmatism."
The first group, which is where Mr.
Williamson and his paleo allies are coming from, he
prefers to call "Rightists." Only the second is
"conservative" in the sense that it "seeks to
conserve what exists in the present."
The great dilemma that
conservatives who are "Rightists" are coming to
face is how they can retain loyalty to what prevails in
this country today and remain wedded to their vision of
They are by no means the first
generation of the real right to face that dilemma. Many
of the thinkers whom Mr. Williamson discusses in his
book faced it also in their own times. Reading his
account of how they resolved it just might help real
conservatives today deal with the same problem.
If you face that dilemma yourself,
maybe you should read the book.
CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
Sam Francis [email
him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection
of his columns,
America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The
Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available
Americans For Immigration Control.
for Sam Francis` website. Click
here to order his monograph,
Ethnopolitics: Immigration, Race, and the American