In Commentary, Peter Wehner addresses the intellectual evolution of conservative thinker George Will. The early George Will advocated strong government conservatism:
A purpose of politics is to facilitate, as much as is prudent, the existence of worthy passions and the achievement of worthy aims. It is to help persons want what they ought to want. Politics should share one purpose with religion: the steady emancipation of the individual through the education of his passion.
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we need a public philosophy that can rectify the current imbalance between the political order’s meticulous concern for material well-being and its fastidious withdrawal from concern for the inner lives and moral character of citizens… we must rethink today’s constricted notion of the legitimate uses of law.
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The institutions that once were most directly responsible for tempering individualism – family, church, voluntary associations, town governments – with collective concerns have come to seem more peripheral. Using government discriminatingly but energetically to strengthen these institutions is part of the natural program of conservatives… If conservatives do not want to use government power in behalf of their values, why do they waste their time running for office? Have they no value other than hostility to government? … National character is a real thing, molded in part by law and politics, and it is not made of marble.
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Much legislation is moral legislation because it conditions the action and the thought of the nation in broad and important spheres in life.
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The theory was that if government compelled people to eat and work and study and play together, government would improve the inner lives of those people.
The later George Will advocates limited government conservatism:
And these [natural] rights are the foundation of limited government – government defined by the limited goal of securing those rights so that individuals may flourish in their free and responsible exercise of those rights.
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A government thus limited is not in the business of imposing its opinions about what happiness or excellence the citizens should choose to pursue. Having such opinions is the business of other institutions – private and voluntary ones, especially religious ones – that supply the conditions for liberty.
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A nation such as ours, steeped in and shaped by Biblical religion, cannot comfortably accommodate a politics that takes its bearings from the proposition that human nature is a malleable product of social forces, and that improving human nature, perhaps unto perfection, is a proper purpose of politics… Biblical religion should be wary of the consequences of government untethered from the limiting purpose of securing natural rights.
The contrast between George Will then versus George Will now raises the important question, Should statecraft be soulcraft? Strong government conservatism answers “Yes” while limited (or libertarian) conservatism answers “No.” What is your answer, and why? I am undecided on this question, sometimes persuaded by the former camp and others times by the latter. This much is certain to me: The mission of the Church is soulcraft. I entrust my soul to the church, not government. Of course I am not one of those anti-government conservatives. Obviously the government has a key role in promoting the common good, but I have not figured out how much of a role.
- CSPAN: George Will on Religion in Politics at Washington University in St. Louis (December 4, 2012)