I have been a follower of George Will’s work for about 40 years, although I haven’t read one of his books since Statecraft as Soulcraft, his first full length book, over 35 years ago. I am pleased that I chose to read his latest, The Conservative Sensibility, a major addition to conservative thought that one reviewer, Steven Hayward, places on a level with Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, very good company to say the least.
This book is a number of things, but mainly it is a discussion of Will’s evolution of thought about what constitutes a conservative mind, both politically and otherwise, and in about 600 pages, it covers a lot of ground and a broad range of “sensibilities”.
First, the obvious question for any conservative: What do you seek to conserve? For Will, the simple answer is to conserve the American Founding–the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution and their underlying principles. And he understands very well the 20th century contest between conservatism rooted in the Founding conception of natural rights and a fixed human nature, and progressivism, which conceives of a malleable human nature and limitless possibilities unconstrained by nature.
As he reviews this basic conflict in its applicability to American politics and culture, he takes us on a walk through the past century of American history–in education, judicial philosophy, economic policy, cultural issues, religion, and foreign policy, highlighting his particular conservative sensibilities along the way in a deep reflection on American conservatism and its prospects. I have some significant disagreements with some elements of his thought, but this was a great read and a necessary addition to the ongoing debates in the conservative movement.