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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Be A Thinking Conservative
Long-time conservative book reviewer Chilton Williamson discusses 50 books "that impact today's conservative thinkers." The books date from the Bible to Thomas Fleming's 2004 THE MORALITY OF EVERYDAY LIFE. He provides an overview of each work, discusses its author and, when appropriate, relates it to contemporary issues (such as the neocon/paleocon dispute). The books...
Published on November 11, 2004 by Steve Jackson

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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Eclectic Take
I find it strange that many in Europe and other parts of the world see the US as a right wing nation, far from it (besides, the term is outdated and belongs to the French Revolution). "The Conservative Bookshelf" by Chilton Williamson, Jr., is an eclectic take on American conservatism.

In this book, which is a commentary on selected works and people that have...
Published on November 20, 2006 by thisisgibbie


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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Be A Thinking Conservative, November 11, 2004
Long-time conservative book reviewer Chilton Williamson discusses 50 books "that impact today's conservative thinkers." The books date from the Bible to Thomas Fleming's 2004 THE MORALITY OF EVERYDAY LIFE. He provides an overview of each work, discusses its author and, when appropriate, relates it to contemporary issues (such as the neocon/paleocon dispute). The books are divided into religion, politics, society, literature, economics, and present day disputes. I should note that the "texts" under consideration are serious works and not a collection of anti-Clinton screeds written by second-tier neoconservatives. If you've always wanted to know what works elaborate on the essentials of conservative thought, Mr. Williamson is a sure guide. If you don't want to know why Burke was a Rockingham Whig instead of a Tory, then look someplace else.

Ten of the 50 books are works of fiction. I don't have a problem with that, but as a result there are some important thinkers who are not mentioned that most would consider "essential" to contemporary conservatism (such as Eric Voegelin and Christopher Dawson). I also would have liked to see a little more interaction with libertarianism. Von Mises and Rothbard are mentioned only once. While Von Mises was not a conservative in the contemporary sense of the word, every conservative should read HUMAN ACTION. In addition, the section on religion is quite slim, and it would have been a good place to mention Dawson.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Paleoconservative Bookshelf, July 13, 2005
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Mr. Williamson goes over 50 books he considers most strongly reflects his view of what being a true conservative means. The 50 books are organized into several subjects in rank of decreasing importance with religion on top, then politics, society, economics, the prophetic artist (works of fiction), and the present day. Each book is summarized in a four to ten page chapter with Mr. Williamson often commenting on the work's importance in today's world. The one central key to understanding Mr. Williamson's compilation is the selection is heavily biased towards a traditional view of conservatism or in today's political lingo Mr. Williamson is a paleoconservative. One can view today's conservative movement in the US as being made up of three pillars: traditional conservatives, neo-conservatives, and libertarians. Each strain of conservatism is represented by a major political magazine. The National Review might be the most representative of traditional conservatives (although neo-conservative views are well represented), the Weekly Standard is dominated by neo-conservatives, and Reason magazine takes a libertarian position. Mr. Williamson does not hide his preference for traditional conservatism and his disdain of neo-conservatives. In reading this book one is not sure if Mr. Williamson has more hatred of the left or the neo-conservatives. Mr. Williamson would describe a true conservative as being the conservatism that grew out of the 19th/early 20th centuries. I believe that Mr. Williamson would be much more a fan of late 19th century populist William Jennings Bryant than say Theodore Roosevelt. To Mr. Williamson true conservatism is embodied with respect for tradition, distrust of big government and large corporations, faith, love of country, isolationist foreign policy, pragmatism, distrust of one size fits all theoretical solutions, and acceptance that each nation will have its own peculiar culture and institutions worth defending. Mr. Williamson summarized these as the values of "small town" America.
Mr. Williamson does not include a single writer from the neo-conservative movement, except perhaps Ann Coulter, ignoring the Kristols, David Horowitz, etc. He basically ignores the libertarians although he does include Hayek's Road to Serfdom. This bias against libertarians and neo-conservatives can be shown most illustratively in his exclusion of any writings from Milton Friedman in the Economics section, or Ayn Rand from his selection of fictional works.
I would recommend this book as it does go over some important works that might led to further exploration. But one has to keep in mind this is a work concentrating on one strain of the conservative movement. This branch of conservatism has seen its influence decline tremendously with the rise of the neo-conservatives. One can feel Mr. Williamson's anger and bitterness as he see his movement being hijacked by imposters or more dangerously a wolf in sheep's clothing.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Eclectic Take, November 20, 2006
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This review is from: The Conservative Bookshelf: Essential Works That Impact Today's Conservative Thinkers (Paperback)
I find it strange that many in Europe and other parts of the world see the US as a right wing nation, far from it (besides, the term is outdated and belongs to the French Revolution). "The Conservative Bookshelf" by Chilton Williamson, Jr., is an eclectic take on American conservatism.

In this book, which is a commentary on selected works and people that have and may have influenced American conservatism, Williamson lays down his observations in his Introduction, where he tries to define conservatism and the political zeitgeist. He defines conservatism as "man's willingness to discern for himself, and to accept from God, a fundamental, practical, just, human, and unchangeable plan for man - and to stick with it." While Williamson plays into the language of many traditional conservatives, who are infact religious and put up with unclarified statements of religious sentiment, the question behind this quote is - what is the unchangeable plan for man? It should be noted that Williamson is a National Review "conservative" and a "conservative" Catholic of the National Review variety.

Being a Protestant, from a Whiggish Anglo background, I gravely dislike the subversive tendency by Williamson and other "conservative" Catholics (e.g. Neuhaus, though himself probably still a neo-con), who draw from American conservative history, subvert Protestants to make themselves look the right and try to co-opt the history for their own position (e.g. p. 85, 136, 159, 187, 298, etc.). Not understanding the full cultural history within its own context, Williamson is the outsider trying to play the insider (The great tragedy of contemporary Protestantism is that while its churches are going through an identity crisis, it is allowing others to write its history and change the story). I would point you to Williamson's review "Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America: 1950 - 1985" from the National Review in 1994 for a more clarified reading on this man's position (It is also on the Web). One fatal error he makes is to position Patrick Buchanan as a mere pragmatist rightist. In fact, I think Buchanan, who is also Catholic, has a more proper understanding of the conservative American context and Constitutionalism, closer to Russell Kirk than the writer, and not a sentimental one like Williamson, who appears to be a rightist himself.

Williamson is closely tied to the group of "conservative" Catholic thinkers who took over The Chronicles magazine. Their philosophy comes from the minds of Thomas Fleming, John Lukacs, etc., who draw their conservatism more from Pope Leo XIII, John Courtenay Murray, Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh and William F. Buckley, who is not really a paleocon, but mixes Burkian reflections with pre-modern continental yearnings (read European). True American conservatism has its roots back through the Republican, Whig and Federalist parties, the American British colonial period, which has its roots in Whiggish and Puritan England and back to the times of the Tudor and Elizabethan settlement. It is not continental conservatism of the Hapsburg variety. What Williamson and others miss is that the anti-Catholicism of the old days was a real concern for Protestants, particularly in England, who were conspired against by pope, Jesuits and others (not mere irrational bigotry). The threat was real. This ended in America, at least for liberal Protestants, when JFK announced that his loyalty was first to the country and not the pope - he then won West Virginia, Texas and the country in 1960. For conservatives, this tended to end with the co-struggle against the Stalinist anti-religion grip of America by the left and the endemic problem of abortion in the 1970s and 80s. You see, the outcome was political and not religious, which still is a dividing problem for orthodox Catholics and Protestants. Religion must be based upon orthodoxy, but this is a struggle in a pluralist society. Early America was by and large pluralist Protestant. A lack of definition by the Founding Fathers has both helped and hindered this situation.

Today, there is so much flip-flopping it is hard to tell who is what? Most are in the squishy mixed-up middle trying to get by in life. Traditionally, the laws of a people are grounded in religion, which is what Williamson really seems to be getting at but won't state it as the categorical solution. He most likely would want an American republic reconstituted away from traditional Protestant and 16th - 18th century British and American thought (particularly John Locke) to one redefined by Aristotelian logic and John Courtney Murray revisionism.

To give him credit, Williamson starts with The Bible as the first text in religion and then notes Cicero's Republic, Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, The Federalist Papers and lists those whom I would call really the last of the Old Conservatives: Garet Garrett, Whittaker Chambers, Samuel Francis and the last of the Old Conservative presidential contenders Robert Taft, who passed away in the gray suit years of the 50s (no these were not the conservative halcyon days that liberals falsely pose, with McCarthy on the brain). Read the chapters about Garet Garrett, Samuel Francis, and Patrick Buchanan for cultural clarifications. Another point that should be noted in the undertow is the isolationism of the old conservatives was not a "stay the heck away from me", head in the sand view that the Roosevelt Democrats projected onto them, but a long held principled view that went back to John Quincy Adams on not intervening around the world in a quagmire attempt to make other nations like us. Calmly consider this in juxtaposition to Buchanan and other's critiques of the current administration's seeking to democratize problem spots around the world. Conservatives must look at the muddling of this position with honesty. Yet, there is more than meets the eye in Iraq.

In addition, please read the review by Paula Craig, who represents the views of many people in contemporary America, a mixture of different positions - see how she wrestles with Williamson's anti-environmentalism and her own conservatism. This is not to say she is wrong, but to reflect how there are a variety of "conservative" and for that matter "liberal" social platforms today, a confederation of worldviews. This is due to the erosion of traditional culture and multi-culturalism, among other social changes. Besides, shouldn't conservatives be concerned about conservation?

Also read, Michael Kim's review, which shows how many today read conservatism. He is pretty accurate in his approximations. The neo-cons (or should I say, the neo-traditional liberals) and the Ayn Randian libertarians have also had their influence, but are not truly conservative, yet may hold to some sentiments. David Horowitz provides an important addition to the mix; I would call him a heterodox conservative. While not true to doctrine, he certainly is true to sentiment. His insight is important if you want to see how the far left think and act and how someone tries to make amends after being a destructive radical.

While this book lacks a true meta-narrative, it should still be a lesson and observation on political and worldview positions, without fear of politically correct repercussions, to teach one to read broadly and seek to understand other views, so that one can understand one's own position within an historical context; so that one can be consistent within one's own position. Williamson's book is a contemporary observation looking back on a worldview that is getting harder and harder to discern.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Guaranteed to give you something to think about!, September 18, 2005
By 
Paula L. Craig (Falls Church, VA United States) - See all my reviews
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I found this book a fascinating introduction to paleoconservatism. I consider myself quite conservative in some respects, and quite liberal in others. I have always had trouble understanding where neoconservatives like George Bush were coming from, since their actions so often seemed to throw the best conservative principles out the window. After reading this book, I find that my views match much more with the paleoconservatives. I certainly don't agree with all of the ideas presented, but I found several books that I definitely plan to read. What more can you ask of a survey book like this?

I was surprised to see environmentalism classed by Williamson as a naughty liberal idea. As Williamson says, conservatism is about preferring the familiar to the unknown, the tried to the untried. Williamson has missed the essential conservatism of environmentalism. Since we don't have a spare planet to live on, we should be quite cautious about accepting innovations that will destroy the natural resources our lives depend on. This is true even where those innovations date back some decades, such as the auto-centered culture of modern America. It is true that some environmental proposals are naive, but environmentalists aren't alone in making naive proposals. (The neoconservative idea that America should accept an unlimited number of immigrants strikes me as more naive and stupid than anything the environmentalists have come up with.) Having a stable, sustainable economy with a stable population size is a thoroughly conservative idea--and that's really what environmentalism is about.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Samizdat for paleocons, November 1, 2007
This review is from: The Conservative Bookshelf: Essential Works That Impact Today's Conservative Thinkers (Paperback)
This is a book that desperately needed to be written. Although many will disagree with the author's specific definition of conservatism, and many will quibble with this or that selection or omission, the books on this list represent what was generally considered to be orthodox conservative ideology before the neocon takeover. At one time, every conservative who considered himself politically aware would have read a good number of these books and been familiar with most of the rest, at least by reputation. Now, in a "conservative" movement whose flagship periodical runs articles praising TROTSKY ([...] the old canon has become something of an embarrassment to the neocon putschists who- like their communist forebears- have rewritten the history books to convince us that the face of conservatism has_always_resembled the ugly mugs of an Irving Kristol or David Frum. Mr. Williamson's book- and the foundational texts referenced therein- are a standing rebuke to the neocons' mendacious revisionism.

Likudniks whose life's work is to instigate endless war for the sake of Israel don't want us to read Edmund Burke, Garet Garrett or Joseph Maistre. Trotskyites who glory in social upheaval and moral revolution want to efface from memory the names of people like Russell Kirk, Phyllis Schlafly and the Southern Agrarians. Holocaust cultists who promote a Third World invasion of America to ensure that "it can't happen here" would love for us to have never heard of names like Jean Raspail, Pat Buchanan and Sam Francis. Jewish nationalists who despise the crucified God, except when he can be utilized to corral Christian cannon fodder into neocon wars, react like vampires to holy water when confronted with the Christian foundation of conservative thought. In short, the neocon regime now at the helm of conservative media and politics would love to ban most of the books on Williamson's conservative bookshelf, if they had the power. That's why these books, which were at one time promoted as close to holy writ in the conservative movement, seem so subversive and heretical today.

Neoconservatism is a radical apostasy from traditional conservatism. I think the distinguishing principle at the heart of true conservatism is a deep knowledge of history and a sober acceptance of its frequently disheartening lessons about the limitations of men. Liberals, neocons and other juvenile fanatics want reality to conform to their wishes and thus convince themselves that the right combination of persuasion, coercion and government programs can do things like bring democracy to the Mideast or make the lion lay down with the lamb. Conservatives need to know the history of their own ideology to see where we came from, where we got hijacked and why we need to regain control. This book is a must-read for those conservatives who know that something has gone wrong.
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