Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.
On today’s episode we’re joined by a writer who has come since his early days in journalism become one of the signature voices of American conservative opinion. For more than thirty years, George F. Will’s views — framed in reference to works of 18th century philosophy and the action on the modern baseball diamond — appeared in a biweekly Newsweek column that became part of the reading life of millions. The recipient of a 1977 Pulitzer prize for political commentary, Will has like many of his peers made the leap from newsprint to small screen, but he’s also the prolific author of books on politics and philosophy such as Statecraft as Soulcraft, and The Pursuit of Virtue and Other Tory Notions, but also multiple books on the sport he loves, most notably his bestseller Men at Work: the Craft of Baseball. But Will’s new book The Conservative Sensibility is, he told us, something of his life’s work, and he sat down a few weeks before the publication of The Conservative Sensibility to talk with us about what, exactly, he means by that imposing phrase.
For more than four decades, George F. Will has attempted to discern the principles of the Western political tradition and apply them to America’s civic life. Today, the stakes could hardly be higher. Vital questions about the nature of man, of rights, of equality, of majority rule are bubbling just beneath the surface of daily events in America.
The Founders’ vision, articulated first in the Declaration of Independence and carried out in the Constitution, gave the new republic a framework for government unique in world history. Their beliefs in natural rights, limited government, religious freedom, and in human virtue and dignity ushered in two centuries of American prosperity. Now, as Will shows, conservatism is under threat–both from progressives and elements inside the Republican Party. America has become an administrative state, while destructive trends have overtaken family life and higher education. Semi-autonomous executive agencies wield essentially unaccountable power. Congress has failed in its duty to exercise its legislative powers. And the executive branch has slipped the Constitution’s leash.
In the intellectual battle between the vision of Founding Fathers like James Madison, who advanced the notion of natural rights that pre-exist government, and the progressivism advanced by Woodrow Wilson, the Founders have been losing. It’s time to reverse America’s political fortunes.
Expansive, intellectually thrilling, and written with the erudite wit that has made Will beloved by millions of readers, The Conservative Sensibility is an extraordinary new book from one of America’s most celebrated political writers.
Author photo of George F. Will (c) Victoria Will.