Reason Podcast

George Will's Lonely Battle Against Republican Nationalism and Democratic Socialism

Defending the conservative sensibility in the era of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.


Three years ago this month, George Will, America's foremost conservative newspaper columnist, officially quit the Republican Party over its acquiescence to Donald Trump. "This is not my party," he said then. It's even less so now.

Yet the erudite author and television commentator is not ready to give up on conservatism just yet. In his career-punctuating new book The Conservative Sensibility, Will makes the forceful argument that the natural rights-based classical liberalism of James Madison is the antidote to authoritarianism found on both the Trumpian right and progressive left.

In an interview with Reason's Matt Welch, Will talks about the importance of rehabilitating America's withered constitutional architecture, ponders what the punditry class got wrong in 2016, and reminisces about what it was like for a conservative columnist to criticize an erratic Republican president way back in 1973.

Edited by Ian Keyser. Intro by Todd Krainin. Camera by Jim Epstein.

Photo Credit: Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press/Newscom

'Running Waters' by Jason Shaw is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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NEXT: National Review's David French Is a Conservative, Evangelical Christian Who Is Getting Worried About Theocracy. So Should You.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. There is nothing "conservative" about Will. In fact, Will is oddly Marxist. Marx expected everyone to lose their culture and identity and blend into the world Prolitariat. Will thinks pretty much the same thing. Culture and tradition and all human motivations don't matter because the desire for money and material goods. Note he calls immigration "an entrapenurial act" as only economics could motive someone. Instead of the world prolitariat, Will thinks everyone already has desolved into the world of worker drones.

    I am sorry, if you think that any tradition, community, and all other values are subserviant to whatever judgement "the Market" gives. You are not a conservative. People often ask why Will's and the subsequent generation of conservatives didn't conservate anything. The answer is they were not really conservatives and were not interested in conserving anything. The claims that they were was just boob bait for the boobouise.

    1. You don't understand what conservatism is and you certainly don't understand what Marxism is.

      1. I understand both quite well. And conservatism is not some dumb and inconsistent version of Libertarianism. People like Will forever claim they love freedom and the rights of the individual are paramount, that is until it comes to something they don't like (usually but not always drugs or porn) then suddenly it is different.

        The point of conservatism is to conserve. It is a deadication to the nation and its traidtion and culture, which includes freedom but individual freedom isn't the only or paramount value. If it were, there would be no difference between conservatives and libertarians.

        1. I never thought in my entire life I'd see Reason join forces with the fucking David French/George Will set over what amounts to an argument over the sanctimony of the presidency. WTF is happening.

          1. Reason bitches forever about the "Imperial Presidency". So the country elects what amounts to turning Al Cervick lose on Bushwood Country Club and suddenly it is all about "the dignity of the office". It is just pathetic.

            1. The only guy who seemingly sees the real value of the coarsening of this seems to be Gillespie who I swear to god is the only one who remotely understands the value of Trump.

            2. I've always hated the idea that former presidents should be addressed as "Mr. President." There's only one president at a time and it ain't them. They were hired to do a job, they did it, now they aren't. It's not a life-long role.
              Don't even get me started on that "Czar" crap.

              1. I hate that too. And even worse they now do it for Congress creatures, governors and ambassadors. The President is the highest office in the land. I don't like that they do that but if they made a single exception for that office, it would be okay. But instead, everyone who ever won an election for dog catcher now gets a lifetime title.

                1. Even for appointed positions. It's ridiculous. Calling Hillary "Madame Secretary" because she held an appointed position for a while.

                  1. Empress Bitchcunt seems more appropriate.

            3. John you are 100% correct. I’ve been saying for the last three years that it’s the snobs versus the slobs.

              Trump is Czervik, and Hillary is Judge Smails. So then Robby must be Danny Noonan.

        2. Conservatism has a purpose. It is to act as a brake against progress, by conserving the status quo, in case the progress is not adaptive. But sooner or later, because change is inevitable, the status quo itself becomes non-adaptive. Then conservatism has to betray itself and adopt the new status quo. This is the fate of conservatism: to always lose and betray itself to safeguard a center that is behind the times, but that humanity can retreat to of things should go awry, as they once in a while do.

          1. Yes things change. But they don't always change for the good. The Whig/Marxist view of history that it is forever going one way is total bunk.

            Regarless of your opinion of conservatism, Will isn't one of them. Will is an opptunistic and stupid variety of Libertarian. It is for people like Will all about "meh principles" until those principles get in the way of his self interest and tastes. Then everything is different because REASONS!!

            1. That's a ridiculously stupid screed.

              Will is a conservative. He's not an authoritarian nutjob like your Orange Messiah. He's an American conservative.

          2. That might be the stupidest paradigm I've ever come across, eunuch.

            1. Seems accurate, if incomplete, to me. Much like William F Buckleys "stand athwart history shouting 'stop!'"

    2. That's not what Will is for by a long shot. This place and Welch in particular has gone quite daffy

      1. Welch has certainly gone daffy. But I disagree with you about Will. He seems to have gone daffy himself. Show me where he has been anything but fanatic open borders and international trade under any terms advocate in the last few years. I certainly haven't seen it.

    3. And there it is, folks. Proof that conservatives like John never cared about free markets.

      1. And there it is folks, proof that yes Chipper is illiterate and probably missing a few chomosomes.

        Conservatives are not LIbertarians. Thinking thatt the "free market" whatever the hell that is supposed to mean, is not only or always the paramount value in society does not mean you don't value it. It is very simple, saying something isn't the only value isn't saying it is not a value. Do you understand how that work or are you really this stupid?

        1. No shit, Sherlock. Conservatives and libertarians are fundamentally different.

          Whatever the hell the free market is supposed to mean? You have been posting here close to 20 years and you still don't know that? The free market is people engaging in mutually voluntary exchange of goods and services. Something that you would like to point a gun at if it threatens your ideas of tradition or community.

          1. No shit, Sherlock. Conservatives and libertarians are fundamentally different.

            Can you try reading the God damned posts before blathering about them? That was my original point that you went on about. Now you are like "I knew that". No you didn't. You are just a dickhead who refuses to read the posts or even try to make a cogent response that adds anything to the conversation.

            And as far as the "free market", absent anarchy, there is no perfectly free market. It is just a question of what restrictions and how many government puts on the market. So how few restrictions do their have to be for a market to be "free"? Your answer to that question varies by whatever your values are.

              1. If that includes the enforcement of contracts, then yes.

                How does one enforce a contract non-aggressively?

                1. The NAP says you can't initiate force. You can retaliate with force.

                  1. So the NAP DOES support the things that will need to be done to the Progressives? Good.

                2. How do you enforce a contract against someone who turns into a meth addict and stops paying rent and fucks up your property?

              2. The NAP, completely unrestrained, is not libertarian, it is anarchy.

                The difference between libertarian and anarchy is that the libertarian believes some government is necessary. Some things libertarians believe that anarchists don't ....
                ... Borders are necessary as boundaries for legal environments.
                ... Some cooperative efforts must be undertaken by government.
                ... Taxes, are required but must be universal and as non-intrusive as possible.

                Chipper and Ice are not libertarians, they are anarchists. I certainly respect their views, but I do wish they would label themselves and their views accurately. The "perfect" principles they advocate for without limitation, represented as libertarianism, are a major reason libertarians are not taken seriously by the majority of society.

                1. That's completely wrong. Government is the means by which we place the retaliatory use of force under objective law. The NAP applied to government simply prohibits it from initiating force. BTW, anarchy means "without rulers" so society with a government restrained by the NAP would be anarchic.

    4. Get a grip, John, all of those values and traditions are part of "the Market". They are what informs people's decisions on how to participate in the market. The market is, in fact, subservient to all of the things you list and many more.
      I don't know where you get this idea that libertarians believe that the market dictates anything. The market is just the results of all of the decisions people make. Libertarians don't believe that the market is perfect and correct and ideal in every way. They just value personal autonomy above all else and so accept the outcomes of the market because the alternative is force and coercion.
      Now, you are correct that that is not always going to be great for everyone, so people are going to meddle with that free exchange. And one has to accept that that is part of reality. Which I think is a lot of the point you make sometimes about libertarians.
      But you really should know this by now.

      1. I disagree. The whole premise of the free market is that it's win/win.

        1. Fraud is nonexistent?

          1. Fraud is theft not free market.

    5. No time to listen, but if so that's hilarious of Will, because he used to complain about exactly that. He's just a professional gadfly, but he definitely is the personification of the Anti-Trump among conservatives: stodgy, cursing not only the darkness but even the twilight while never sincere about lighting a candle. unable to be pinned down...blah. Won't.

  2. wit a minute..... Nationalism?

    I don't think he is battling Nationalism. Bad manners, trade protectionism, neither of those are Nationalism.

    Gandhi was a nationalist. Washington, Churchill, Alfred the Great, Lincoln, deGaulle, Walesa, Sadat, Bolivar, Roosevelt, Reagan, .... there is nothing wrong, and a whole lot right, with Nationalism.

    If you are telling us that, not only must we accept No Borders and go along those who want to recruit new welfare recipients/Democrat voters and pay for their education and health care by granting them privileges our own citizens don't enjoy, but nowwe can't even legitimately want what is best for our country anymore, than Reason has outlived it's sell by date....

    1. there is nothing wrong, and a whole lot right, with Nationalism.

      The big problem with nationalism is that it is fundamentally based on demagoguery. It can only be maintained by developing a national identity that is tribal in nature, declaring the national tribe as the virtuous ones and the foreign tribes as the opponents, if not the enemies, of the virtuous national tribe.

      1. People identify with groups. People of similar interests and a particular geographic region get together and for something called a soveriegnty. Without some level of nationalism and commitment to that nation over others, there is no nation, and without a nation there is no law or rule of law or popular sovergnty.

      2. What humans are not tribal? Where are these mythical non-tribal humans?

        1. I'd like to think that we can move on from, or at least improve the tribalism in people. Tribal societies are fucked up and violent. I'll agree that shifting the tribal loyalty to a larger polity at least makes for a more peaceful and productive society. So tribalism in the sense of "we're all Americans, so let's make it work" is pretty good. But that seems to be breaking down to some extent and is leading us into the bad kind of tribalism.

      3. Prod Jeffy, a national identity is a good thing. Much in the ay the child rape you support is a bad thing.

      4. Leftists always project.

        In this case, racebaiterjeff projects his own mania for dividing the world into the virtuous and unvirtuous onto nationalists.

        Populist nationalism is simply government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Representative government represents the people governed.

        Nationalism isn't about other countries being worse, it's about being in a polity and having a government for that polity that works for us.

      5. So, my list above of famous Nationalists, please point out for us the Demagogues who cast foreigners as enemies (I had to check to see if I included Cato the Elder, I did not)

    2. we can’t even legitimately want what is best for our country anymore

      How do you know what is "best for our country"? By whatever Congress says? By whatever the President says?

      1. Red herrings from racebaiterjeff. It's all so tiresome.

      2. I do not know. The People, properly represented, do know. Yes, the populace gets stuff wrong a lot. But they generally steer to the correct tack. You are the evil personified because you want to enforce upon them what you believe is the correct course.

        1. The people know what they want, and they’re going to get it, good and hard!

      3. Pedo Jeffy, you are one stupid kid. Go back to your kiddie porn you piece of shit.

    3. If you think that "nationalism" just means thinking that it's a good idea to have nation states, sure. I'm not sure that's all it means. Who the fuck knows what anything means anymore?

  3. jesus fucking christ reason. First David French now this. WTF. Can we dig up the corpse of Buckley to give a handy to?

    1. Reason loves washed up Republicans almost as much as it loves food trucks.

      1. The best part of the Trump moment is this type of shit, it's been eye opening. Its all over aesthetics and kissing the ass so you have a future job somewhere in print media. None of these people have principles of any kind. I really do not like Trump but jesus he's like a black light for the Washington set.

        1. It is all based on lies. It is very revealing that the media's biggest complaint about Trump is that he is a "liar". They are the biggest liars on planet earth. And they hate Trump for daring to tell the truth on some things as much as anything else.

        2. "he’s like a black light for the Washington set."

          That's a great line

        3. What Trump has done is coaxed the half-educated malcontents, superstitious slack-jaws, white supremacists, and stale-thinking bigots out in the open, enabling the liberal-libertarian mainstream to identify and stomp the losers. After a half-century and more of progress, some Americans had lost sight of the level of dysfunction, ugliness, and failure afflicting our rural and southern stretches. Recent revelations will renew the vigor of those who effect American progress against the aims and actions of clingers.

          1. Arty, do you understand that you and your friends are unnecessary? For example, your progtarded friends in NY are beholden to the people you insult for their food and most of the goods they consume. The reverse is not true. NY could cease to exist and the rest of us would be just fine.

            In short, you would starve to death without the people you prattle on about. Who are in reality your betters.

          2. Here is bigot Rev to tell everyone hypocritically bigoted everyone else is. Thanks for my morning read on how stupid you are, Rev.

          3. Right because Detroit, Chicago and L.A. are shining cities on a hill.

    2. Didn't you hear? Reason is all in for making common cause with anyone else for Open Borders Uber Alles.

      Nick declared @Reason’s “core value” as Open Borders:
      In the 21st century, libertarians are going to have make common cause with the globalists of all parties, with the people whose core value is the right of individuals to move freely around the planet.

      It's inevitable. As long as there actually is an alternative to the Globalist Uniparty, Reason will be against it, and on the side of the other Globalists.

      It takes a big tent to crush America. Reason, Neocons, NeverTrumpers, Antifa, Postmodern Marxists, SJWs, and the rest of the Left.

      Globalists to the Left.
      Nationalists to the Right.

      1. clearly the Koch brothers are getting their money's worth out of Reason.

  4. I just can't even. Are we going to do a profile on Jennifer Rubin during the next Trump term?

  5. That’s nice. Have you ever considered interviewing an actual conservative?

    1. Like who? Trump?

      1. Still wating on that link jeffo.

        But you making excuses doesn't make you look guilty at all.

        Stop, I'll save you the trouble. You're going to spend the next 6 hours making excuses. We get it.

        1. Here is Evil as personified by “Tu¬lpa AKA “Mr. Satan”” on these very comment pages, as a warning to all of us: The essence of Evil can be expressed as, I should be admired as being MEEEE because I am MEEEE!!! I need not do any useful work, I need to invent anything, I need not contribute any humor or information or wisdom to the world (let alone any LOVE or respect for others), I need merely dispense my scorn and disdain and superiority over all others, and then I may walk away, knowing fully well in my own self-admiring mind, that I have EARNED the admiration of all others, although they may selfishly deprive me of said admiration from time to time… I deserve to be admired and worshiped by all and sundry, not because of what I do or say or accomplish… But because I am MEEEE!!! That alone should be enough, dammit!!!

          1. You're too old for Jeff, not his type. He isnt going to sleep with you.

        2. Pedo Jeffy is too busy jacking it to violent child rape videos.

  6. "George Will"

    Ah yes. Well, you can't spell "tedious" without T D S.

  7. Will's rejection of nationalism is a perfect example of his hypocrisy and dishonesty. If you want to reject nationalism, fine. Go be a hard core AnCap or Libertarian or an old school Marxist Leninist. But Will of course is none of those. He believes in governments and sovergnty just as much as the next person. All of those things are forms of nationalism. So what Will does is takes the aspects of nationalism he likes and justify is tastes and calls them "patriotism" and calls anything he doens't like "nationalism". He then declares nationalism bad and to his mind ends the debate by declaring all positions contrary to his "nationalist" and therefore invalid.

    It is pathetic.

    1. Orange Man Bad! Deplorables Bad!

      Politics has gotten so wacky. The Left's argument's against Trump are simply absurd at every turn, while guys like Charles Murray bemoan Orange Man Bad while being to the Right of Trump on immigration.

      George at least has enough of a grasp on reality left to intuit that his problem with Trump is largely about his "sensibilities". It doesn't seem he's realized that his sensibilities that are offended by Trump are those of a self appointed ruling class believing that they have the right to rule.

    2. John, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Will defines nationalism by its worst, most extreme practitioners.

  8. Webster was reading George Will when he defined "boring".

  9. Who knew the day would come when Matt Welch eats shit, and lives. I hope being on bill maher is worth it.

  10. Excellent interview. Surprised there weren't more baseball metaphors. (But the one that's there is a pretty good one.)

    And, yeah, I was dismayed by Statecraft as Soulcraft back in the day. I'm glad GFW has reconsidered it.

  11. A more dignified and self-effacing Trump (more Reagan like) would not have faced the election results of 2018 and would have a House majority now that would advance his agenda instead of engaging in bullshit investigations and pretending that the legislation they want to pass now was in their grasp during Obama's first term and they utterly failed to "cure" whatever "crisis" they now blame on Trump.

    1. Will jackasses ever stop thinking they know more than Trump about electoral communications strategies?

    2. The House almost always flips.

    3. But “A more dignified and self-effacing Trump” would not have won the election vs the establishment. Tough times call for tough measures.

      I would have liked Trump to use Reagan’s “the most frightening words in the language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

    4. A more dignified and self-effacing Trump (more Reagan like) would not have faced the election results of 2018 and would have a House majority now that would advance his agenda

      A more dignified and self-effacing Trump would have lost in a landslide to Hillary Clinton because the Democratic propaganda machinery would have torn him to shreds with false accusations and vilification.

      The only way anybody can win against the Democratic propaganda machinery is with being crude and not giving a f*ck.

  12. If Will is opposed to Nationalism, he's no conservative. He's not even a liberal from 20 years ago.

    Civic nationalism was an American consensus across both parties at least since the end of WWII.

  13. George Will wants to return to the good old days, where politicians and voters actually respected self-righteous pricks like him. Sorry, not happening.

    1. #ListenToYourBetters

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