George F. Will is America’s foremost conservative columnist, and one of the nation’s most consequential writers more broadly. Equipped with an unwavering commitment to core principles, a formidable command of language, and an immunity to herd mentality, he has been a crusader for the preservation of America’s fundamental values since the 1970s.
In his new book, The Conservative Sensibility, Will depicts American conservatism in the Oakeshottian way; as an inclination rather than an ideology. He explores how the vision of the Founding Fathers forms the beating heart of that inclination, as an extension of the philosophies that influenced them. In turn, he dissects the foundational ideas upon which conservatism operates – limited government, natural rights, virtue and responsibility, the separation of powers, economic freedom – and addresses other vital subjects ranging from religion to adjudication.
Donald Trump’s name does not appear once in the book, on the basis that he has no more to do with conservatism than Humphrey Bogart and Doris Day. Indeed, Will’s vehement opposition to Trump led him to abandon the Republican Party in 2016.
I approached Mr. Will with a handful of questions pertaining to these topics. In a rare break from writing, he was avuncular enough to indulge my curiosity. Our brief yet fruitful dialogue can be read below.
Niles Moon (N.M.): When President Trump finally steps down, what form do you think that the Republican Party will take? Has Trump’s tenure broken the GOP beyond repair?
George Will (G.W.): I believe the Republican Party post-Trump will have a regrettable populist tone, and an anti-capitalist temptation that will make it a weak opponent of the expansion of the regulatory state.
N.M.: Broadly speaking, what impact do you hope that The Conservative Sensibility will have on the conservative movement?
G.W.: I would hope that my book would demonstrate that American conservatism is incoherent unless it takes its bearings from the American Founding.
N.M.: How would you define human nature, and how essential is a clear conception of human nature to the conservative sensibility?
G.W.: I would define human nature as Locke and Madison did – sociable but self-interested – and I would say that conservatism must begin by resisting the proposition that there is no such thing as human nature – that we are infinitely malleable because we merely adapt to, and take the coloration from, the promptings of the culture in which we are situated.
N.M.: You have said that, ultimately, progressivism can only be diminished in the minds of the American people through persuasion. How can we successfully make the case for conservatism today?
G.W.: Progressivism gives rise to rent-seeking, crony capitalism and other unpleasant entanglements of the public and private sectors. The case for conservatism is that it works, and that it minimizes the inevitable transaction costs of government.
N.M.: Lastly, what is the best piece of advice that you can offer to young conservatives who wish to preserve conservative principles while pursuing careers in areas such as political commentary and public policy?
G.W.: My advice is simple: read. Read Hayek, Friedman, Schumpeter, Matt Ridley (he, too, is from Magdalen College, Oxford). The world belongs, in the end, to those who know things, and who know how to argue.
Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flikr.