Tag Archives: political philosophy

the price we pay for not being born mud-turtles

“However, American conservatives are caught in the web of their careless antigovernment rhetoric. They are partially immobilized by their uneasy consciences about government power. This uneasiness derives from their libertarian tendency–from an economic predisposition pressed into service as political philosophy. This question must be asked: 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 other value than hostility to government? Or do they value “change” and want to get government out of the way of society”s autonomous dynamic of change? Certainly there is a long pedigree to the idea that society’s dynamic is necessarily beneficient–“progressive.” But it is rash to risk, in advance, a blanket congratulation to society on what this process of change will bring. Certainly conservatives should be specially eager to find occasions for using the power of government to demonstrate that membership in the American polity involves broadly shared values and dispositions. This is an exacting task, but it is the price we pay for not being born mud-turtles or trout or oysters.”

George Will, “Statecraft as Soulcraft,” p. 152

“Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does” by George Will

I recently picked up an old book by one of the more articulate columnists and thinkers I enjoy reading, “Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does” by George Will.

In this circa 1983 book, Will writes in tight, literate sentences, unraveling the genealogy of conservatism, questioning what it is that conservatives really believe. He asks if government should be as passive and uninvolved in society as modern conservatives seem to preach. Individualism, it seems, is not as healthy for our culture as we would believe.

It is time to come up from individualism. We have had quite enough of the Leatherstocking Tales, thank you. We need a literature of cheerful sociability, novels of social “thickness” that make society seem a complex but friendly place where social relationships facilitate rather than frustrate individualism and “self-realization.” And 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. In fine, we must rethink today’s constricted notion of the legitimate uses of the law.

But should the law guide and shape society? Or should it be the embodiment of societies morals?