Round Table Discussion

The Remnant’s Library

Rascals and Prophets

Chilton Williamson has taken an important step toward giving postmodern conservatism a set of respectable literary credentials.  If readers are expecting a conventional walk through the conservative “classics” or a set of reflections on the writers celebrated by Russell Kirk in The Conservative Mind, they will be disappointed.  Rather than taking tea with Dr. Johnson or fencing with the legal minds of Henry Sumner Maine or Fitzjames Stephen, readers of The Conservative Bookshelf will find themselves rubbing shoulders with a rascally set of novelists and essayists—Ernest Hemingway, Edward Abbey, William Faulkner, Edmund Wilson, and Aldous Huxley—few of whom ever thought of themselves as conservatives.

Some readers will be reassured by the presence of such reactionary liberals as Ortega y Gasset and Albert Jay Nock or the one or two legitimate conservatives thrown in (to confuse the reader?)—Cicero, T.S. Eliot, and Clyde Wilson; for the most part, however, what this book represents is an act of subversive bricolage—a patching together of disparate elements as a means of defining a tradition that cannot really be defined.  In Williamson’s hands, Edward Abbey and Edmund Wilson are inducted as involuntary soldiers in the conservative cause—and very effective soldiers, too.  His insight is impeccable.  Even William F. Buckley, Jr. is represented by...

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