Durable, disciplined liberty

November 4, 2011

It's hard to remember when
George Will was a serious political thinker and not a shill for the latest
Republican talking point. E. J. Dionne and the folks at Front Porch Republic are among several
commentators who recalled those happier days as they confronted Will's recent, incomprehensible claim that consumer advocate and
Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren has a "collectivist" agenda because she
thinks that individual fates in modern society are deeply interconnected and that nobody "got rich on his own."

As Dionne and others point
out, Will once used Warren's very own terms to define what conservatism is.
Back in the 1980s, he wrote powerfully on behalf of a political conservativism
that was distinctly anti-individualistic and anti-libertarian. "Real conservatism is about balancing many
competing values," Will wrote back then,

always requires resistance to libertarianism (the doctrine of maximum freedom
for private appetites) because libertarianism is a recipe for the dissolution
of public authority, social and religious traditions, and other restraints
needed to prevent license from replacing durable, disciplined liberty.

Will's 1983 book Statecraft as Soulcraft displays in its very title a positive vision of government
that would be laughed off the stage at any of the Republican presidential
debates. Will argued that statecraft should foster social stability, encourage
virtue and serve the common good, and that by necessity such statecraft must
restrain individualism and the market. Basically, that's the kind of
"disciplined liberty" Warren was defending.

 Will's earlier brand of conservatism was a lively
conversation partner for liberals who are inclined to lapse into an
individualism of their own and to turn issues of substantive good into
questions of mere procedural justice. The loss of that conservative philosophy
is a loss for liberals as well as for conservatives.