Quaker Universalist Voice

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Elegant, Limited Conservative

The Conservative Sensibility by George F. Will - A Book Review

The Conservative Sensibility (Hachette Books, 2019), by George Will, reflects the author’s well-earned reputation for elegant style. The book has a clean, clear style of one in the role of a cheerful malcontent, cheerful in tone and critical of whatever is offered to change the current status quo and supportive of delays in these happenings.  It appears that the author relies on the axiom that passing time heals by forgetting the pains and harms of the past through voluntary actions and without government intervention.

 The author is an intellectual friend of President Madison and President Lincoln and disapproves of the service of President Trump, particularly his appropriation of conservatism.  The author is more comfortable in the past than the present. The author is an ardent U.S. nationalist, with lesser interest in the world outside and, primarily then, only to the extent that the global problems impact the U.S. nation. His scope of national care substantially halts at the current U.S. borders and is limited beyond the borders of the U.S.

In summary, the author asserts a belief in the reality of inalienable natural rights of each person in existence, centered on freedom. Additional values are the preference for limited government that is relatively appropriate and proportional to important tasks, religious freedom, and recognition of the role of voluntary acts of human virtue.

The author’s subject is American conservatism. The triumph of universal human conservatism is, to the author’s view, conducive to national flourishing and personal human happiness in all human nations, but particularly in the U.S.  This analysis should be tested by its application to all nations. The book is actually an argument for universal human conservatism and with a preference for the example and thought of President Madison. The book’s purpose is to show how the nature and gravity of current political arguments reflect that older Madison view. 

The conservative sensibility is an attitude and urge for preserving the status quo against the passage of time and events. This attitude is not accompanied by an alternative agenda for solving current political challenges beyond maintenance of the status quo.  The author’s primary purpose is to explain how to think about the enduring questions about the scope of care and limits of the innate competence of human government. When in doubt about current dilemmas, refer and defer to the founding principles of the wisdom in the past.

 At a practical level, any deviation from the past is either wrong at its root or wrong in its implementation as an overreaching of government, which harms the characters and lives of citizens.  The author is a cogent critic of the U.S. Congress for failure in its duty to exercise legislative powers and the constant congressional deference to the regulatory Executive Branch. This conservative sensibility approach applies to Social Security, worker’s compensation, women’s suffrage, civil rights protections for minorities, health care, employment, prisons, weapons, the gold standard for currencies, business regulation, and antitrust measures.

The author seeks to show the continuing relevance of the identified founding principles, despite changing human memory and understanding of these principles.  The book’s thesis depends on the accuracy of memory of the past and the fixity of a preferable, romanticized national past.It shows the unwisdom and pernicious effects of any change proposals as departures from those founding principles.

American exceptionalism is embraced by the author. U.S. citizens within continental borders are nearly genetically different, superior and exceptional in human experience. The conservative sensibility is wary of unaccountable government power and corporate power (to a lesser extent, due to their celebration of capitalism). The author is generally supportive of religion as a tool for social order and control when supportive of founding principles of the U.S., but wary of its distorting power. The author shows a nostalgic pleasure in Princeton, New Jersey as a place and as a significant role in the founding of the U.S.

 This is a beautiful book to hold in hand and lap. The book includes a massive bibliography, endnotes, and index.  The table of contents is clear and helpful.


There is no reference to Quakers in this book of some 500 pages.


  •  Is the author’s view of the current application of U.S. founding principles sound in your experience?
  • What are the elements of a practical conservative public policy agenda to address current national and international problems


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