The veteran Washington Post columnist and TV commentator offers a richly documented history of and argument for a wider embrace of conservative political values.
“Richly documented” is an understatement. Will (A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred, 2014, etc.) is nothing if not a thorough, dedicated researcher and thinker, but he’s often prolix. Many of the historical figures the author references will come as no surprise—e.g., Burke, Moynihan, Madison, Locke—and there are also plenty from the literary world; these include allusions to Twain and Fitzgerald, whose closing sentences from The Great Gatsby provide Will with a metaphor for his principal points. Not much the Pulitzer winner offers here will surprise those who have paid attention to his rhetoric over the decades. His three American heroes remain: Washington, Lincoln, John Marshall. He thinks the U.S. government has grown too big, that it is too interested in providing entitlements (Will is a believer in much more self-reliance than he sees evident today), that schools and universities should do a much more rigorous job of transmitting the Western historical heritage, and that progressives just don’t understand how America is supposed to work. However, in one chapter, he may surprise some readers: He declares he is an atheist (though “amiable, low-voltage”), and he spends a few pages reminding us that the founders were not particularly religious and that we must observe the separation of church and state. He praises the civil rights movement but asserts that much of it has gone wrong. Oddly missing are direct references to the current occupant of the White House, though Will does zing many of his predecessors (from both parties but principally Democrats), mostly for their failure to comprehend fully the concept of liberty that fueled the founders.
The author’s literate, committed voice sometimes disappears in his tangled wood of allusion and quotation.