Peter Wehner has an interesting post over at Commentary on the intellectual evolution of George Will, titled “The Intellectual Evolution of George Will.” Wehner wistfully yet respectfully, laments Will’s change of heart when it comes to the American founding and the role of government generally. Wehner, you see, is a great fan of Statecraft as Soulcraft, Will’s 1983 opus on the proper role of government. I will admit I am a fan of the book, too. And of Will himself, of course. But I am a fan of Statecraft as Soulcraft for the elegance of Will’s prose and what I learned from it when I read it.
I am not, however, all that persuaded by its core argument. Unlike many libertarians, I don’t reject it entirely out of hand. It is a very serious and thoughtful book. But his claim that liberal societies, and America in particular, are “ill-founded” and that the State must take it upon itself to create better people ultimately leaves me cold. People are often surprised when I tell them that Statecraft as Soulcraft was roughly reviewed not once, but twice, by National Review where we are institutionally friends and fans of George Will, an NR alum and compadre of WFB. The American Tory’s case for the welfare state and for a more activist government was just a bit too much Tory and not quite enough American for many on the right.
Anyway, I’m not looking to pick an argument with Wehner or Will. Suffice it to say that whereas Wehner is troubled when he hears George Will proclaim:
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.
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.
I am heartened by it.