Rediscovered: The Nation-State In The Western Tradition

[Recently
by Chilton Williamson Jr.:



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Peter Brimelow tells me that VDARE.COM readers have been
kind enough to inquire about my

almost
total absence from this site over the past
two years.  The fact is, I signed a contract twenty-four
months ago to write a book, and was hard at work writing
it until last February—after which there were editorial
queries to answer, corrections to make, proofs to read…

But the book is out now, in time for the November
elections.  Titled

The Conservative Bookshelf: Essential Works That Impact
Today`s Conservative Thinkers
,
it amounts to my
own personal canon in respect of conservative
literature—which explains why I found the publisher`s
offer irresistible. (Dr.
Johnson
must have felt the same way about his

Dictionary.)


TCB

is a book of fifty
chapters, each a critical essay evaluating one of fifty
works I consider integral to the literature of
conservatism, created over four millennia.  The
collection is deliberately eclectic, ranging from the
Bible to

Ann Coulter`s


Treason
,
covering theology, political
philosophy, history, autobiography, social thought,
economics, poetry, fiction, and contemporary
journalism. 

Included are such disparate works as City of God,
by

St. Augustine;
Cicero`s The Republic;

Reflections on the Revolution in France
by
Burke;

Joseph de Maistre
`s Considerations on France;
The Federalist; The Liberal Mind by Kenneth
Minogue;

I`ll Take My Stand,
the manifesto of the

Southern Agrarians;
John Lukacs`s Historical
Consciousness
;

The Education of Henry Adams;


The Memoirs of a Superfluous Man
,
by

Albert Jay Nock;
 Hilaire
Belloc`s
The Servile State and Hayek`s The
Road to Serfdom; The Waste Land;

A Handful of Dust
,
by Evelyn Waugh and The
Napoleon of Notting Hill,
by

G.K. Chesterton
; William Faulkner`s The Bear;
 The
Camp of the Saints,
by

Jean Raspail;
and contemporary writings by

Peter Brimelow
,

Pat Buchanan
,

Samuel Francis
,

Joseph Sobran,


Clyde Wilson
,

Thomas Fleming
, and

Joseph Scotchie

I have included also a few choices whose
“conservative”
authors themselves might find
surprising, such as Edmund Wilson`s


The Cold War and the Income Tax,

Hemingway`s
The Sun Also Rises,
and

Edward Abbey
`s


Desert Solitaire.


 “Do you
really

think you can find
fifty conservative books to write about?”

my editor asked me when we discussed the idea of TCB. 
I assured him the problem was not coming up with fifty
appropriate titles, but selecting them from 50,000
equally worthy ones. 

Choosing fifty books, evaluating them both in their own
right and in the context of a tradition, and then
committing my conclusions to paper was very much what
the

teacher`s college
crowd (the

worms in the apple
) call a “learning experience.” 
But I`m pleased to be able to say that the learning
experience was a pleasant—meaning, a reassuring—one.

I believe that conservatism is not, to use that
overworked term, an “ideology.” The conservative
tradition is valuable because it is real, real because
it is living, and alive to the extent that it cannot be
precisely defined, identified, and transfixed with a pin
to any fixed place within the political taxonomy.  Oscar
Wilde quipped that people who make fun of Society are
the ones who

can`t get into it.
  Similarly, the

neoconservatives
—who insist on defining conservatism
in ideological terms—are those who never were part of
the conservative tradition in the first place, and don`t
belong to it now.

Working up the manuscript convinced me, finally, of two
things. 

The first is that we

paleoconservatives
are neither delusionary nor
insane, or even ignorant.  There
is

a discernible and
coherent intellectual and political tradition in the
West that traces forward four millennia, and ends,
essentially, with
us.
 
 

What is more, this tradition was accepted as rational,
reasonable, and even commonsensible up until the time of
Bacon, or thereabouts. 

The second thing—-of
vital concern to VDARE.COM readers—is that the

nation-state,
currently under assault by liberals,
some

libertarians
and

neoconservatives
, is absolutely an integral part of
the Western political tradition since the sixteenth and
seventeenth century.  Not only that, but the national
principle has been sanctioned for two thousand years by
the dominant moral system of the West. 

Long-time visitors to VDARE.COM may recall my

A Christmas Meditation: St. Augustine on the National
Question
,
posted here on 23 December 2001. My
argument (amplified in
TCB,

Chapter 3) was that
this Father of the Church would have condemned out of
hand modern notions of globalism, One Worldism, and the
First Universal Nation. Saint Augustine held that, while


“citizens of all nations”
may indeed be united
spiritually in God`s church, they are divinely intended
as citizens of this world to live as members of national
communities—which, taken together, comprise a variegated
international one.

Augustine wrote
City of God
between 413
and 426.  Four and a half centuries earlier, Cicero, in


The Republic

(TCB, Chapter 4) had
anticipated him in his enthusiasm for the national state
in all its particularities.  


“The good life,”

Cicero argues, “is impossible without the good state;
and
[so] there is no greater blessing than a
well-ordered

state.” 

Not, however, just “any kind of human gathering,
congregating in any manner, but a numerous gathering
brought together by legal consent and community of
interest.”
  For Cicero,


“a state should be
organized in such a way as to last forever.  And so the
death of a state is never natural, as it is with a
person….Again, when a state is destroyed, eliminated,
and blotted out, it is rather as if…this whole world
were to collapse and pass away.”

Two thousand years later, Cicero`s words were echoed by
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn –
TCB,

Chapter 38 – when he

spoke
of nations “as the wealth of mankind…its
generalized personalities: the smallest of them has its
own particular colors, and embodies a particular facet
of God`s design.”

The special identity of nations and peoples is a theme
of
Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Edmund Burke

argued
that God had

willed the State:


“…He willed its
connection with the source and original archetype of all
perfection.”

For Burke, each particular state entailed its own
particular social contract,

which


“is to be looked upon
with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in
things subservient only to a gross animal existence of a
temporary and perishable nature.  It is a partnership in
all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all
perfection….Each contract of each particular state is
but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal
society….”

In
Considerations on France

(TCB,
Chapter 8),
Joseph de
Maistre mocked the Revolutionary Constitution of 1795 as
a being document made for “man.” 


“But there is no such
thing as man in the world,” h
e

protests
“In my lifetime I have seen Frenchmen,
Italians, Russians, etc.; thanks to Montesquieu, I even
know that
one can be Persian.
But as for
man,
I declare that I
have never in my life met him; if he exists, he is
unknown to me.”

In The
Federalist

(TCB,
Chapter 9), John Jay

makes his famous reference
to the United States as


“one connected country
[given by
Providence] to one connected people, a people
descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same
language, professing the same religion, attached to the
same principles of government, very similar in their
manners and customs.” 

Which was why, he argued, a free government could work
here.

Also in The Federalist, James Madison states
explicitly that the proposed Constitution is tailored,
not to the French or Italian people, let alone to
universal “man,” but to what he calls the

"vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of
America"
upon whom “the genius of the whole
system
[of 1787]" depended.

And then there is G. K. Chesterton who, in his wonderful
first novel,

The Napoleon of Notting Hill
about a borough of
London that establishes its independence from the
greater city and then attempts to deny a similar
autonomy to its imitators—makes an impassioned case for
the federalist principle over the centralist one,
nations in preference to empire:


“`The glory of Notting
Hill in having achieved its independence, has been
enough for me to dream of for many years….Is it really
not enough for you? Notting Hill is a nation. Why should
it condescend to be a mere Empire?… Do you not see that
it is the glory of our achievement that we have infected
the other cities with the idealism of Notting Hill?  It
is we who have created not only our own side, but both
sides of this controversy. O too humble fools, why
should you wish to destroy your enemies?  You have done
something more to them.  You have created your
enemies.`”

From antiquity through the early Christian world,
British neoclassicism and the continental
counterrevolutionary tradition, and into the early
twentieth century, a direct line of descent can be
traced to the paleoconservative writers of the present
day.

To hear our critics, who believe that the nation to be

purely ideological
, you might think we had made this
all up out of our very own heads!  I don`t doubt, of
course, that we are capable, collectively, of that
unprecedented intellectual feat.  In point of fact,
however, we didn`t do it. We have adapted the great
tradition to modern times while adding a few innovations
of our own, as I hope I make clear in “The Present
Day,
my book`s concluding section. 

Beyond that, our Western forebears really didn`t leave
us much to do.



Chilton Williamson Jr.
[email
him
] is the author of

The Immigration Mystique: America`s False Conscience

and an editor and columnist for


Chronicles
Magazine, where he writes The Hundredth
Meridian column about life in the Rocky Mountain West.



His
latest book is


The Conservative Bookshelf: Essential Works That Impact
Today`s Conservative Thinkers
.