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The Conservative Sensibility

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  163 ratings  ·  40 reviews
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, an "astonishing" and "enthralling" (Booklist) new examination of how the Founders' belief in natural rights created a great American political tradition--"easily one of the best books on American Conservatism ever written" (Jonah Goldberg).

For more than four decades, George F. Will has attempted to discern the principles of the W
Kindle Edition, 640 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by Hachette Books
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4.16  · 
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 ·  163 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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David Wineberg
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If there is anyone on Earth who can rationally explain the conservative movement in the USA, it is George Will. Highly principled, extraordinarily erudite and calmly eloquent, Will has taken on this job/love in The Conservative Sensibility. There is an enormous amount of thought and analysis here. Will deconstructs sentences, picks out individual words for scrutiny, and when necessary, looks at greater context. Numerous paragraphs revolve around a single word from something someone said or wrote ...more
The Conservative Sensibility is partly about the premises of American Conservatism, partly about George Will’s personal opinions that have little to do with Conservatism. The chapters that summarize the Conservative approach to civilization are beautiful; we have Hayekian knowledge of the dangerous futility of statist “fine-tuning,” we have the ageless genius of the founders’ vision based in natural rights, we have the role of American exceptionalism in a global world, etcetera. These are great ...more
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
This was probably the single greatest book on politics I have ever read. The writing was amazing and it was packed with information. You learn in one book as much as reading 4 or 5 books on politics & history.

I'm not a fan or hater of Mr Will, I"m slightly conservative but enjoy reading about everything. The book was not polemical. It's not like reading a book by Ann Colter or Rush Limbaugh. It's about political philosophy and history. It's not about convincing you to vote for so and so or b
This book was revelatory and frustrating. It's the most illuminating thing I've read about American conservatism (which Will describes as a "sensibility" rather than a "philosophy" or "ideology.") It is also a sharp critique of progressivism, and effectively raises many of the contradictions of that sensibility, mostly around how entrusting government with power creates the potential for abuse. This is a real issue, and isn't necessarily partisan. Will's opposition to executive power is essentia ...more
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of this book was excellent.

The chapter on atheism was the weakest. Mr. Will's atheism seems to come cheaply and without the intellectual rigor of the rest of the book. "Without divine revelations, what difference does the answer - 'was made' or 'just happened' - really make?"(p. 457). It turns out quite a bit. And Mr. Will's failure to recognize that is a significant flaw.

A utilitarian argument for the exceptional "natural" rights Americans enjoy (freedom of speech, religion, assembly, et
Scriptor Ignotus
Sep 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
With Sulla in the White House and his reactionary sycophants doing battle with Elagabalan purveyors of perfumed degeneracy over the spoils of a fraying Republic, George Will figures as a lonely Polybius, a conservative forced into exile by a populist derangement that has cast aside his movement’s tradition of Constitutional deference and epistemological modesty with astonishing haste. Even in the throes of electoral victory, the American right displays less cohesion of identity and purpose today ...more
Scott Pierce
5 stars - for anyone who wants some sense of what modern conservatism is, or should aspire to, at least as perceived by one of the leaders of the movement and a writer and commentator of massive intelligence. The book is both descriptive and prescriptive - offering a path (though unlikely to be taken) to saving the republic.

"American conservatism has a clear mission: It is to conserve, by articulating and demonstrating the continuing pertinence of, the Founders' thinking. The price of accuracy m
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Governments do not exist to dispense rights, but to secure the natural rights that we hold by virtue of our humanity. That proposition was the intellectual foundation of the Founders when establishing our country in the late eighteenth century. Over the past century, though this and other founding principles have undergone a steady erosion. In "The Conservative Sensibility," George Will makes the case for a return to the classical liberalism of the Founding.

Will describes how our founding princi
Five stars for all chapters except chapter 9. The book explains a lot. A main theme can be summed up in this quote by Roger Pilon: "The simple presumption of our Constitution is liberty, with government authorized and empowered to protect it, and obligated to offer compelling reasons for restricting it when that should be necessary."

Chapter 9 was disappointing to say the least. He started out strong with an argument that our form of government doesn't need any theological component. So far so go
Ronald J.
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a deep and long book, certainly George Will’s Magnum Opus. He sets out answering the question, what do conservatives seek to conserve? His answer: “We seek to conserve the American Founding.” He explains the Founder’s philosophy, the philosophy that the progressives formulated explicitly as a refutation of the Founders, and why the Founders philosophy was superior. Woodrow Wilson and progressivism comes in for a [much justified] pummeling. “Unleashing majorities was a progressive objecti ...more
Bill Berg

I enjoyed this book because I'm an iconoclastic tweak with a pseudo intellectual bent. I nearly worshipped WF Buckley, and must confess oft felt envy of his intellect, erudition, and elite station in life. At times I had similar thoughts of Will.

As I've aged and life has shown me more and more that "elite" in this mortal coil is eternally problematic, my objective has moved to being a disciple of Jesus Christ -- so pride in anything but Christ is at best c
I thought about picking this up, but the reviews and Will's interviews about the book are making me question that. I've read plenty of conservative arguments lately that anti-majoritarian political institutions protect society from a reckless majority empowering an intrusive administrative state. The biggest problem with this is that it is not only government that can restrict liberty. Private wealth can and does lead to power that limits peoples' ability to pursue happiness. The news is now rep ...more
Jul 03, 2019 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: epub
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, an "astonishing" and "enthralling" (Booklist) new reflection on American conservatism, examining how the Founders' belief in natural rights created a great American political tradition—one that now finds itself under threat.

For more than four decades, George F. Will has attempted to discern the principles of the Western political tradition and apply them to America's civic life. Today, the stakes could hardly be higher. Vital questions about the nature
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book. I’m always fascinated when people write books like this. I try to imagine the process, the organization and the huge amount of research and thinking involved. Of course, since it aligns with my views, it’s easy to agree. But then, I agreed with Fukuyama’s books too and they didn’t completely align with my biases. I’m on the Sid that thinks government has gone too far and is trying to do things it wasn’t intended to do and that it has repeatedly shown it is incapable of doing. It is ...more
John Munro
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Keep your dictionary or Wikipedia handy, as Mr. Will is unsparing in his use of the obscure word or phrase. He traces the growth of the federal government from its inception to the modern day, and points to the administrations of TR, Wilson, FDR and LBJ as key to this growth, whether it was for defense or social programs. The author is especially critical of the shift of power to the executive branch and its myriad agencies. The judiciary has been complacent in this power shift by deferring inte ...more
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics-history
This book is not merely a collection of Will's columns; rather, it is a summary of his thoughts on the genius of the American political experiment. Will makes a strong case for a certain reading of the constitution (a "conservative" case in the sense of conservation of the Founders' vision), but you will be surprised by some of his arguments (arguing forcefully, for example, in favor of a robust judicial review to an extent that many conservatives might call activist). I've been reading George W ...more
Richard Sansing
Jul 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An erudite and articulate defense of small government conservatism (aka classical liberalism), with particular emphasis on constitutional law and economics issues. A few interesting surprises along the way.

1. Criticizes conservative legal scholars such as Bork and Scalia for giving excessive deference to the legislative branch, arguing that it is the job of the judicial branch to defend the unalienable rights retained by the people (see the Ninth Amendment) from majoritarian institutions. Offers
Jul 30, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Linda by: 11th Hour
Oops! I'm sorry. I must've dozed off.
I like big words, but I think that's all Will uses in this book. I lost count of how many times he used chimeral and ameliorate.
To say this is not what I expected is a liotes. It didn't help that the narrator spoke as a Brahmin. I could visualize the pince-nez on his face. (Probably had a cup of tea, too.)
I truly was hoping to learn something about why "the other side" thinks the way they do. This book went further back in history than I was exp
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy reading George Will in the newspapers. I enjoy his incisive comments about leftists and Trump Republicans. I'm social liberal and economically conservative, but I can empathize with the conservative sensibility. My solution to the government deficit spending problem is to raise taxes to pay for the government that we're getting. The northern European countries do this well, and we can learn from them. Overall, the book is thought provoking, e.g., I have a new appreciation for Justice Cla ...more
Nick Ertz
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, he didn't turn me into a Conservative - but it's a close call. This is a book that should be read by everyone with an interest in politics regardless of one's orientation. It is especially important for liberals and progressives to read so they know what they are up against. If more Republicans were true to this ideal, there would be more for people to attach to. The sensibility is plain: simple government, responsible jurists, and a Congress who doesn't abdicate their responsibility. Ther ...more
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable and thought-provoking book. It was such a pleasure to take a break from the drivel that occupies the political landscape and to read well-reasoned thoughts. I especially enjoyed the early chapters of the book where Will provides keen insights into the indelible ties between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I certainly experienced pangs of sadness as I realized how far we've come from the greatness of the leaders that formed this country, as well as how unlikely ...more
Lyle Wiedeman
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating book, especially for moderates who hope that we'll return to getting things done and living up to the ideals of the US. I found it about one-third compelling ideas - e.g. the larger the influence of the executive branch, the more lure there is for corruption (rent-seeking, lobbying) as people seek to eat from a growing public trough, about one-third deliberate misrepresentation of the progressive viewpoint, and one-third unsupported assertions (which comes very close to BS. ...more
4.75 / 5.0

Matthew Henken
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent exposition of American conservativism across a broad range of topics. Some portions of course reflect Will's idiosyncratic approach and individual tastes, but it is beautifully done.
Mike Cross
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece by a verbose and well-stated author! Much more than just politics, and a great mix of history and philosophy. I you like the author, this is basically a culmination of all his political thoughts. A must read!
Leo Chamberlain
The 20th century gave conservatives The Conservative Mind by Russel Kirk. Now the 21st century gave us The Conservative Sensibility. Easily one of the most important works on conservative thought in the modern era.
Justin Koch
This was not a great work of political theory, but it did have its bright spots. It has too much Will’s person persuasions that include some ideas that are unable to be reconciled with more mainstream conservative thought. Not all bad, just not anything new or particularly helpful.
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is really a treatise in what American conservatism should be. Phenomenal read.
In this dense volume, George Will shows great restraint. Especially towards President Donald Trump, whom Will ignores completely.
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not exactly beach reading but definitely interesting. Bring your thesaurus.
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George Will crackpot or prophet? 1 5 Jun 12, 2019 04:30PM  
George Frederick Will is an American newspaper columnist, journalist, and author. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winner best known for his conservative commentary on politics. By the mid 1980s the Wall Street Journal reported he was "perhaps the most powerful journalist in America," in a league with Walter Lippmann (1899–1975).

Will served as an editor for National Review from 1972 to 1978. He joined the W
“America was born with an epistemological assertion: The important political truths are not merely knowable, they are known. They are self-evident in that they are obvious to any mind not clouded by ignorance or superstition. It is, the Declaration says, self-evidently true that “all men are created equal” not only in their access to the important political truths, but also in being endowed with certain unalienable rights, including the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps the most important word in the Declaration is the word “secure”: “[T]o secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” Government’s primary purpose is to secure pre-existing rights. Government does not create rights; it does not dispense them.” 0 likes
“identity politics is valid, then the idea that education should make the educated a member of a larger intellectual culture is invalid. If the premise of identity politics is true, then the idea on which America rests is false. If the premise of identity politics is true, then there is in no meaningful sense a universal human nature, and there are no general standards of intellectual discourse, and no ethic of ennobling disputation, no process of civil persuasion toward friendly consent, no source of legitimacy other than power, and we all live immersed in our tribes, warily watching other tribes across the chasms of our “differences.” No sensible person wants to live in such a society.” 0 likes
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