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PostSubject: Right Thinking: Framers had it right after all   Right Thinking: Framers had it right after all Icon_minitimeWed Aug 21, 2019 8:27 pm

Thirty-six years ago, the eminent political commentator George Will published Statecraft as Soulcraft, his first full-length book. I remember, as a college student, inhaling the book almost overnight. I was impressed by Will’s exquisite prose, but I confess that his argument disappointed me.

Right Thinking: Framers had it right after all Spiropoulos_Andy-2-150x150

In my youth, I was a passionate libertarian. And here was George Will, one of my intellectual heroes, telling me that not only were his fellow conservatives suffering from what he called a disproportionate individualism, but that our nation’s framers were plagued with the same malady. Sacrilegiously calling our government ill-founded, he accused both the founding generation and contemporary conservatives with insufficient attention to the state’s obligation to inculcate the virtue necessary for the survival of a free society.

Now, after years of reading and experience convinced me that his argument had merit, Will, in his indispensable new work The Conservative Sensibility, has surprisingly decided that the libertarians – and the framers – had it right after all. Confessing that his ill-founded jibe was a mistake, Will now believes that conservatives’ highest commitment is the preservation of the principles and institutions of the American Founding. Will puts a libertarian spin on the founding, arguing that the overriding purpose of our regime, transcending even democracy, is the securing of our individual natural rights. He argues that our nation’s undeniable ills can be traced to our nation’s rejection, at the urging of political progressives, of these principles.

The progressives persuaded many Americans that the founders’ worldview was obsolete and an obstacle to social progress. The founders believed that economic, religious, and cultural divisions were inevitable, and that they are best dealt with by securing a large sphere of liberty that will enable individuals and communities to pursue their own way of life. The progressives, believing that the humanity has evolved beyond these crude divisions and there is a consensus among the enlightened on what social justice requires, convinced most Americans that we must remove the founders’ unnecessary restraints on the size and power of government.

Progressive elites promised to build a welfare state that will satisfy all our material needs and liberate us from the narrow-minded social conventions that impede the pursuit of our personal gratifications. The modern administrative state, staffed by experts, will not just enable the pursuit of happiness – it will deliver happiness itself.

But, as Will explains, our unchanging human nature has foiled the progressives. The massive state we constructed is better at delivering goods to self-seeking interest groups than helping families make a better life. Liberating people to follow their passions, while delivering justice to the oppressed, has also led to a tidal wave of broken families, high levels of addiction, and a shockingly vulgar culture.

What do we do now? Will concludes that it falls on conservatives to tell Americans the hard and unpopular truth that freedom requires self-denial, which doesn’t come easy to an affluent commercial society. He concedes that self-restraint won’t just happen naturally – it must be cultivated. Will, it seems, hasn’t really changed much after all. The only difference is that he now understands that the founders knew we needed to do soulcraft all along. Will thinks that the path to leading people to virtue is inculcate reverence for the founders and their works. They would have agreed about the reverence, but would have the people look to revere a higher authority.

Andrew Spiropoulos is the Robert S. Kerr, Sr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Oklahoma City University and the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and should not be attributed to either institution.
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