(will be published June 2019)
by George Will
(review by John Cowan)
The Conservative Sensibility is a great book by George Will, a great scholar and great wit, whose scholarship and intelligence have not been diminished by forty years in Washington.
He defines a “sensibility” as a person’s normal response to all things. And a “conservative sensibility” is, among other things, pessimism as to the results of change.
The Founders of the United States, educated by England’s taxation policies, were leery of the excesses of government and protective of the liberty of the common person. To assure this liberty they divided the functions of government into three: The making of law, the prerogative of the legislature; the executing of law, the executive branch; the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, to assure that law and its execution remained within the bounds of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Each had their own function and were to remain confined to that. The States had their functions and were to be protected from the overreach of the Federal Government.
After a careful detailing of the Founders’ intentions and acts, Will covers the history of the several presidencies both those that lived out the documents and those causing the deterioration of these policies, the latter starting with Wilson and then Franklin Roosevelt and Johnson with their grand notions for the role of government, particularly the executive branch and ultimately themselves. The Founders expected little of the Executive. This blank slate was a temptation that several executives could not resist. George Will does not continue writingto the present moment when the putative conservative party, the Republicans, seem prepared to allow a President to rewrite the budget thus making the President a de facto legislator. (As was Obama before him.) I wait to see if a conservative court follows their lead. Obviously, if “conservative” still means what it says, they should not. But…
George Will does cover many of today’s events flowing from the vicious cycle of government caving in to the voracious demand for more after promising much and delivering quite a bit and the softening of the national character from the self-reliance that is the price of liberty, to the self-indulgence that passes the costs of supplying more to this generation to the next generation This was for me a stirring and educational journey.
How correct is he? Once this book is published, I intend to return to Amazon reviews to see what those much more learned than I have to say. I recommend that you read The Conservative Sensibility unless “they” prove George Will a liar, which I much doubt. He may be your political adversary, but a secure person should not be afraid of the learning of the opposition. My own confession is that over the years I moved from considering George’s positions tide bound and overly conservative to often sound and sometimes brilliant. How did that happen?
I do not plan to flip my allegiance over to small government. I do not want the drug industry to have their liberty. If they did, I would stop taking even aspirin. Boeing should not be supervised by Boeing. Or by former Boeing employees now in government chairs. Government must lay a controlling hand on many an unruly neck, for the good of all.
So it is unwise to assume that we can fix complicated situations with the stroke of our sword. So we should not have invaded Iraq. So what do we do instead? If thinking we can fix the world’s problems is hubris, and I think it is, what do we call it if we watch children bleed and starve without our intervention?
Still and all hubris requires a challenge and The Conservative Sensibility is all of that. Every secure progressive should read it for a well deserved shaking of his or her confidence. Every secure conservative should read it and then start answering the question, “So if not that, then what?” Ask that question knowing that the founder’s intentions created a strategy, the threefold government, suitable for the size of their problem. Seeking the vehicle for delivering on these same intentions with today’s problem almost certainly requires a different answer. Did I miss this understanding expressed somewhere here?