...George F. Will does to the president what the president most fears: He ignores him. This is at once the strength of The Conservative Sensibility ... But it is also its weakness. For this account of conservatism fails to address why it has collapsed as a political force in America in the 21st century, or how the political party that Will has supported for most of his adult life has rejected it decisively in favor of strongman rule ... Restraint; prudence; skepticism; awe; responsibility and ease in modernity. All these virtues are to be found in Will’s very American variety of conservatism. And these reflections of a conservative disposition or sensibility save Will from some of the more abstract forms of ideology that his defense of natural rights implies ... In fact, as Will’s argument makes cumulatively clear, the current Republican Party is as great a threat to conservatism as Will understands it as a feckless progressivism. This book is therefore not only a case for a certain kind of politics in the West. In its silence and implications, it is a damning indictment of what American 'conservatives' have become.
[Will's] is a rousing defense of a distinctly American form of 'conservatism,' one that embraces a political, social and economic system that encourages novelty, dynamism and constant, unpredictable change. Thus, American conservatism — or classical liberalism — Will acknowledges, does not, and does not wish to, conserve very much ... Will wrote a conservative book during the ascendancy of libertarianism in the 1980s, and today, a more libertarian book in an age when conservatives see more clearly how economic and social libertarianism combine to undermine conservatism. His current book has one vice that is frequently attributed to conservatives: It is backward-looking, proposing a solution relevant to a bygone era. By contrast, his conservatism in 1983 was prophetic, anticipating the forces that are today on full display. It is the very dynamism of America that Will now celebrates that has made his new book antiquated upon arrival, an insight he might have recognized had he harked back to his younger, more conservative self.
Will’s analysis is so very thorough, so exhausting in a good way. How did he do this? Amazing quotes from Montesquieu, Lincoln, Rawls, Robespierre, and seemingly everyone else of historical, philosophical and political importance on page after page, along with countless historical tidbits that bring life to what he's explaining. To say that Will wrote a brilliant book brings new meaning to understatement. I wish it was more optimistic, I think there's an optimistic case to be made about what has him pessimistic, but it doesn't mean the book isn't a great read.