George Will discusses liberalism, conservatism, and the future of American political ideology with Institute for Humane Studies president Emily Chamlee-Wright. This wide-ranging conversation includes discussion of Will’s recent book “The Conservative Sensibility,” where he argues that the Founders’ beliefs in natural rights, limited government, religious freedom, and in human virtue and dignity ushered in two centuries of American prosperity. Will says those principles that make our democracy possible are now under threat, both from progressives on the left and from elements within conservatism on the right. Will also explains some of the confusion between terms like “liberal” and “conservative,” since American conservatism draws heavily from the classical liberal intellectual tradition, which would be referred to as “liberalism” in Europe, and is distinct from European conservatism. Will emphasizes the importance of Founders like James Madison, who advanced the notion of natural rights that pre-exist government, and later thinkers like Friedrich Hayek, who spoke of the “fatal conceit” of central planners. Will criticizes progressive thought, including figures like Woodrow Wilson, and also criticizes conservatives who are abandoning classical liberal principles to embrace populism or big government, including “common good conservatives.”
Books mentioned during this conversation: The Conservative Sensibility by George Will, The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon S. Wood, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn, Crisis of the House Divided by Harry V. Jaffa, and Last Call by Daniel Okrent.