The Conservative Bookshelf has so much going for it that I am hard pressed to nominate its best quality, though I aim to do so. Let me indicate something about the salient qualities of Chilton Williamson, Jr.’s latest production, before I identify what I see as his trump card.
In the first place, these 50 essays really are a conservative bookshelf, taking us from the Bible and the classics to today’s most notable thinkers and writers. Mr. Williamson has surprised me with some of his choices (Phyllis Schlafly, for example), but he has justified every one of them. The sense of perspective—and what is conservatism if it is not perspective?—is everywhere bracing and everywhere felt. No book related to his subject better expresses the idea that conservatism is not an ideology or a political prescription but, rather, a vision or a way of seeing things.
Williamson has taken the opportunity, as well he should, to make his version of the conservative heritage one that is personally infused with his experience. When he writes about Edward Abbey, we can sense much of his own relation with wilderness and freedom. When he writes about Peter Brimelow and the issue of immigration, we also sense his own engagement with that issue and the penumbra of his own brilliant book about it, The Immigration Mystique—the best study of that subject ever penned. When he writes about Samuel Francis, Clyde Wilson, and Thomas Fleming, he deals with men he has himself known, and in so doing, he decisively clarifies the induced confusion about the meaning of conservatism.
He has also taken the opportunity to honor those he rightly calls “prophetic artists.” The presence of T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Evelyn Waugh, and Flannery O’Connor is right, for the modern traditionalist must live in revolutionary times, and we need the vision of artists as much as we do the theories of political thinkers—and maybe we need them more.
Perhaps now I can address my favorite thing about Chilton Williamson’s book, and that is his writing. The Conservative Bookshelf is not only readable, it is positively fun to read, and with that pleasure comes the sense that the style is the man himself. Those who know Chilton Williamson know that he has a zest for living, a talent for being in the world, and everything he does, he does excellently well, whether it is wrangling horses, stalking game, fly-fishing, or writing. His cogent sense of reality animates his writing, and his unified sensibility and flexible mind are effortlessly expressed in his articulation. I predict that his book not only will find many grateful readers but will be of special value, in these confusing times, to the young.