The “Dissident American Thought Today” series is a project of St. Augustine’s Press in South Bend, and “The End of Liberalism” is surely one of its finest entries. Its author, Chilton Williamson Jr., should be better known as a public intellectual, especially given his past service as literary editor for the National Review and editor of Chronicles, both high-wattage beacons of learned, cerebral, conservative thought.
Mr. Williamson’s expansive knowledge of conservative and other western thinkers and authors is on display in virtually every page of this paperback. His father, Chilton Sr., was a professor of history at Barnard College, so one can imagine the author’s childhood breakfast discussions focusing on de Tocqueville, John Locke and Montesquieu, versus mundane but typical American morning topics like baseball box scores, lunch menus and weekend plans. He is a genuine polymath.
Perhaps Williamson’s most interesting departure from his Ivy League and New York City roots was his move to Wyoming in his 30s, where he worked on gas rigs. He wrote “Roughnecking It: Or, Life in the Overthrust” to chronicle his experiences there, making lifelong friends in the process.
To Mr. Williamson, liberalism is not the philosophy of John Stuart Mill or our 19th-century “liberals,” who favored free markets and limited government. It is a faith, though a dying one, and one way of looking at the world. Though most of 2023’s liberals would not go as far as Marxists, both philosophies share a belief in the “perfectibility” of man, or at least in his malleability. To remold human nature, a constantly expanding, powerful central state is the required catalyst.
The book, of course, focuses on the utopianism, failures, and irrationality of today’s “liberals.” In seeking the perfectibility of “generic man,” liberals believe that environment can actually change his essential nature.
“Liberals’ problem,” offers Mr. Williamson, presumably speaking within today’s Democrat party, “is that they are really the sole ideological party in the world today, while their enemies are almost entirely non-ideological; they are pragmatists.”
“It is entirely to liberals’ advantage,” adds Williamson, “to advance their program by encouraging people to form desires that cannot possibly be realized in this world (and in some cases shouldn’t be in the next) and ask government to fulfill them directly, or face the consequences at the polls.” Remember that woman, rejoicing on national radio and television broadcasts at Obama’s 2008 election to the presidency, fully expecting that she would never have to make another mortgage payment?
President Biden, by seeking to “forgive” (actually shift to taxpayers) a $400 billion avalanche of student loan debt, came frighteningly close to implementing that woman’s dream and fulfilling Chilton Williamson’s nightmare.
Williamson is that rare individual who can debate academicians and intellectuals from more than a few disciplines, yet is openly supportive of the political achievements of former President Trump. He admits, though, that the former president has “behaved badly” since 2020.
On one random page I selected, the author invoked Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, hallucinogen promoter Timothy Leary, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Pierre Manent.
If Mr. Williamson is correct and liberalism in on its way out as a dominant force in Western democracies, what is to come? He posits that the alternative “will likely be an anti-liberalism, plain and simple, [like the one] that raised Donald Trump to the presidency.”
But thanks to social media and other factors, the radical, socialistic, and anti-American movements such as Black Lives Matters, militant trans and “genderqueer” ideologues and now thousands celebrating the intentional murders of Israeli civilians are garnering daily television coverage, even if their traffic-snarling protests are angering some.
If this coverage is actually moving Americans, especially the young, towards vile extreme viewpoints, Mr. Williamson would join most Epoch Times readers and me in venting vocal alarm. But to defeat these “progressive” far left movements, constitutionalists and conservatives of all stripes need to unite, so that Chiton Williamson’s “anti-liberalism” coalitions have enough mass to influence the media, push back on our universities, and ultimately win a national election.
Williamson’s “The End of Liberalism” clearly has the intellectual heft and citations from the great thinkers over the millennia to enable the conservative movement’s leaders to create more potent and victorious coalitions, and certainly more erudite ones.