George Will’s Case For Conservativism

George Will has an op-ed on The Case For Conservativism but he never makes a case for, or even clearly defines what he is defending. He begins with a description of conservatives versus liberals which I’ve seen used frequently in the past by conservatives, but not by liberals:

Today conservatives tend to favor freedom, and consequently are inclined to be somewhat sanguine about inequalities of outcomes. Liberals are more concerned with equality, understood, they insist, primarily as equality of opportunity, not of outcome.

I’ve had many posts here in which I discussed core liberal values. Freedom generally headed the list. While perhaps I should have considered it, equality of opportunity never even made it onto my lists. With a start such as this, it came as no surprise that the bulk of Will’s column described a liberalism which has very little to do with my beliefs.

Will discusses his version of liberalism throughout the column, and conservativism is generally defined to be that which opposes this faux-liberalism. Just as Will’s version of liberalism differs tremendously from my views, his conservativism as anti-faux-liberalism sometimes is actually closer to liberal beliefs.

Will writes that the “argument about whether there ought to be a welfare state is over,” quickly reducing the significance of what might have been a major issue for many.

Will next claims, “Conservatism challenges liberalism’s blindness about the comparable dangers from the biggest social entity, government.” Check out a handful of liberal and conservative blogs and check what they are discussing today. My bet is that the liberal blogs will be criticizing the actions of government, and expressing distrust for many of its claims. In contrast, the blogs on the right will most likely be making apologies for the President responsible for a tremendous growth in government power, and blindly accepting the latest Republican talking points as fact.

Will makes many additional claims, but they continue to differ from reality. He even manges to blame the Republican policy of corporate welfare on liberals. It is a common argument from conservatives to deny the failings of their party by coming up with rational as to why liberalism is somehow to blame.

Will’s arguments become the most absurd when he gets to foreign policy. He writes, “On foreign policy, conservatism begins, and very nearly ends, by eschewing abroad the fatal conceit that has been liberalism’s undoing domestically — hubris about controlling what cannot, and should not, be controlled.” Who is it that argues that nation building in Iraq is unlikely to succeed, and which side is it that continues to see success around every corner? Once again, Will has gotten liberals and conservatives confused.

The irony of Will’s departure from reality in this column comes in the final paragraph as he says, “Conservatism is realism, about human nature and government’s competence.” Conservativism has become a philosophy of the denial of realism. This is seen in claims about WMD in Iraq, claims of a connection between Saddam and WMD, acceptance of creationism as a valid alternative to evolution, and denial about the scientific consensus on climate change. As for competence, conservativism has brought us the most incompetent government in our history.

The problem for conservativism is that there is no longer a coherent conservative philosophy. Conservatives talk of freedom, and then support increased power for the government with more intrusion in individual’s lives. Conservatives worship the free market but ultimately support a system of corporate welfare and government collusion which Adam Smith would never recognize as capitalism. Conservatives of the past were wary of foreign entanglements, but recall how they reacted to Ron Paul’s reminder of this heritage. Lacking a philosophy that means something, they are limited to inventing their own bizarre definition of liberalism, and then defining themselves as its opponents.

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  1. 1
    Eric says:

    The main problem with your analysis Ron is that you confuse President Bush and his ardent supporters with conservatives. Yes, conservatives voted for him, but that’s because their other choice was Kerry. There is very little conservative about Bush. Will was making this point subtly (maybe a little bit too so).

    Just because a president greatly increases the size of the gov’t and increases budget deficits, expands the welfare state, gives amnesty to illegal aliens, has a radical view of foreign policy all the while saying “I’m a conservative” doesn’t mean he’s one.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    I agree that there is some distinction between Bush other conservatives. A full discussion of conservativism would have to go well beyond this analysis of Will’s column in a brief blog post.

    However, this is not limited to Bush. The conservative blogosphere and conservative pundits have pretty much backed Bush every time he has acted to increase power for the Executive Branch. Conservatives continue to back his foreign policy claims. Conservatives support his social agenda.

    There have been some conservatives who have opposed Bush all along, but not enough. Your argument would be much stronger if more conservatives had fought Bush from the start, as opposed to jumping ship after his support collapsed.

  3. 3
    Kelly Logan says:

    I think this is another example of the tendency of people today to reverse-engineer their arguments and their fact basis to fit whatever conclusions they find convenient at the moment. I don’t think this is purposeful, but the result of an overwhelming immersion in emotion-driven rhetoric that convinces them that their side must be correct. Once they have fallen prey to this, their logical mind and pride are unwilling to accept that they have been duped so easily, so they turn themselves toward a creating a reasoned justification for their beliefs.

    It’s like a man given a secret hypnotic suggestion to raise his arm at a certain time. If you ask the man why he is raising his arm, he won’t say, “I have no idea, it just happened,” he will come up with a series of excuses to explain: He’s stretching his arm, he wanted to feel the air up there, it just feels good…, etc. His mind will not accept the possibility that something outside of his conscious control has occurred; in fact, it will reject this idea so strongly that it will literally lie to itself to maintain the illusion of a singular consciousness.

    Of course, it is not only conservatives that do this, we all do. But it is the extreme level of indoctrination that is imposed on the educated and public figures today that leads them to these more dramatic examples of self-deceipt.

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