George Will and Jonah Goldberg — The conservative sensibility | VIEWPOINT

George Will and Jonah Goldberg — The conservative sensibility | VIEWPOINT


George: There are no southern conservative
democrats anywhere, there are no liberal republicans anymore. And is everybody happy? I don’t think so. Jonah: Hi, George. Thanks for being here. Delighted to talk to you about “The Conservative
Sensibility,” which is just out. And you should know, listeners should know,
viewers should know that this will be repurposed for my podcast, “The Remnant.” George: Remnant of what? Jonah: Well, you remember Albert Jay Nock? George: Of course. “Memoirs of the Superfluous Man.” Jonah: That’s right and “My Enemy, the State.” And he wrote a wonderful essay for the “Atlantic
Magazine” in I believe 1936 called “Isaiah’s Job.” And it’s one of the best essays in the history
of sort of conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, in which he basically tells people, “Don’t
worry about trying to persuade the masses. All you can do is speak to the remnant of
those who hold on to correct thinking,” I think is, I wanna say, Walter Benjamin paraphrased. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when
things started to go a little wobbly among the Republican Party and the Conservative
Movement, I returned to my love. Albert Jay Nock, I’m a huge fan of, and I
called the few of us left who haven’t…hadn’t taken the crazy pills, the remnant. And it became the perfect name for my podcast. George: Very good. Jonah: And so, in some ways, you are the titular
deity of the remnant because you actually, at a moment where almost everybody else is
zagging towards some version of nationalism or collectivism or Catholic integralism, which
is the new hot thing, or as our friend, Matt Continetti recently put it, post-liberal-conservatism,
you were zigging the other direction towards actual classical liberalism and liberalism
rightly understood. So your book is called “The Conservative Sensibility.” And why don’t you…I talked to you in some
length about your book on C-SPAN, we will put a link up to that in the show notes. But why don’t you, for the sake of listeners
who bizarrely didn’t tune into that on a weekend, sort of make your basic case. I’m sure you haven’t done that yet on the
book tour. George: Well, I have noticed and I think lots
of Americans have noticed that things aren’t going well. The prestige of government has fallen, as
the pretenses of government have risen. I thought it was time for, among other things,
an exercise in intellectual archaeology to excavate the foundations of the Republic. And I thought of this as a Princeton PhD in
terms of an argument between two Princetonians, James Madison of the great class of 1771 and
Tommy, as he was known at Princeton, Thomas Woodrow Wilson of the class of 1879. Wilson being the first president to criticize
the American founding, which meant criticizing the constitutional architecture that Madison
erected in response to the founders’ belief in the natural rights which precede government. Wilson rejected this with remarkable forthrightness. And it turns out, with remarkable success,
as he and subsequent progressives have made hash of the separation of powers with the
predictable consequence of an emancipated president. Jonah: So, long-term listeners of this podcast
know I consider myself one of the nation’s foremost despisers of Woodrow Wilson, so this
is an easy… George: Get in line. Jonah: As I said on the C-SPAN conversation,
in some ways, my only criticism of your criticism of Wilson is it doesn’t quite go far enough. You don’t get deep into the political prisoners
or the attacking they hyphenated Americans or the war on the German language. But it’s a good start. And part of your argument, which I share entirely,
is that what Wilson did was he represented the intellectual zeitgist of the time which
was besotted with Bismarck and Darwin, right? And so, part of his critique of the original…of
the founding, was that it was too Newtonian and it needed to become Darwinian and adapt
to the times. Now, part of your argument, which again I
agree with, is that we’ve never quite gotten over this notion. That’s what the living Constitution basically
comes from. How are we ever gonna get rid of it? George: Change. Change public opinion. At the end of the day, even Supreme Court
justices are nominated by elected people and confirmed by elected people. And so if you understand that public opinion
is shiftable sand, you get busy trying to shift it. Jonah: I agree with that entirely, persuasion
is not the ideal tool, but it’s the only we’ve got. George: Exactly. Jonah: But part of your argument, which is
a little radical to some years, I believe it’s in chapter four, is persuading judges
to use their powers to not give a damn about public opinion, and side on liberalism or
on liberty. Why don’t you sort of explain that for a second? George: Well, there comes a point at which
judicial deference to democratic legislatures is dereliction of duty. The duty to superintend the excesses of democracy. For years, conservatives upset by the freewheeling
rights manufacturers of the Warren Court said, “What we really need is more deference.” They were picking up the conservative line
that accelerated Oliver Wendell Holmes and others who said, Holmes famously, “If the
people want to go to hell, I will help them. It’s my job.” Meaning that the excesses of democracy are
what democracy’s all about and he could care less. I believe that there is a higher obligation
than to the majoritarian ethos of the times, it is to the Constitution and the so-called
counter majoritarian difficulty, which was a phrase put into our vocabulary by a great
mean, Alexander Bickel of [inaudible 00:06:35] law school who was a tutor of, friend of,
colleague of Robert Bork. He said that, “The Supreme Court and Judicial
Review is an anomalous institution in a majoritarian society and inherently problematic.” I just don’t think that’s true for several
reasons. First, most of what modern government does
has nothing to do with majorities, and everything to do with compact, small, intense, educated,
articulate, confident, and well-lawyer factions. And therefore, when the majoritarian institutions
responsive to these factions does something peculiarly offensive to the rights of the
citizen, it’s the court’s job to swat it down. That’s all. The Constitution, after all, is a tapestry,
and particularly the Bill of Rights, of prohibitions on what majorities can do. You want an established church, sorry, you
can’t have it. You want restrictions on free exercise of
religion, can’t have that either. Even if a majority wants unreasonable searches
and seizures, can’t do it. Jonah: You mentioned you can’t have an established
church. There were states that had established churches
around the time of [crosstalk 00:07:48]. George: Indeed. Jonah: Do you think states could go back to
having established churches? George: I do not. I’m what Scalia called himself a faint-hearted
originalist. But to me, originalism first breaks on the
Eighth Amendment. There should be no cruel and unusual punishments. The cruel and unusual punishments that were
being inflicted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 would make Scalia and me and everyone
else blanch. So what you try and figure is what they Eighth
Amendment tried to do, is put the country on record against cruelty. And I’m sorry to say that Earl Warren got
it right, there are evolving standards of decency that mark the evolution of a maturing
society. And you have to take that into account. The same is true with religion. Jonah: A big part of your argument, I think
you state it forthrightly in the introduction, is that, I’m paraphrasing, the task of American
conservatism is to conserve the founding and the principles that created it. I’m very sympathetic to that and I think as
a practical matter, the job of the conservative goes to office to do conservative, packs his
lunch and all of the rest, that a big chunk of his job boils down to that. But one of my sort of philosophical problems…this
is very much like a very much Claremont review of books position certainly prior to the current
occupant of the White House, which was that the American founding is the fundament of
conservative fundamentalism. What’s wrong with saying Western Civilization
is the fundament of…is the backdrop… Here’s my problem. I’m against fundaments, reducing all of conservatism
as a philosophical matter to the founding leaves out all sorts of other strains of intellectual
thought, cultural norms that are also extremely important. Why say this is what conservatism is? George: This is what American conservatism
is, and the adjective does a lot of work in modifying that noun. We’re not blood and soil, throw on altar,
tribal conservatism in the European strain that has evolved to defend existing hierarchies
and orders and institutions. We’re semi-Burkean in that Burke had a lively
appreciation of Hayek came to call the spontaneous order of an evolving natural society. We go a step farther, however, in saying that
we want to reconcile people to the openness, the exhilaration of an open society. Obviously, the United States owes an enormous
debt to various strands of Western Civilization, particularly the English Enlightenment. But we’re better at it, that’s why, America,
there’s something sublime about the United States attempt to have a continental republic. Till the Americans came along and Madison
revolutionized democratic theory, there was agreement among the few people who thought
democracy was possible that if possible, it had to be in a small, face-to-face society. Madison said that’s exactly wrong. A small, face-to-face society is apt to be
homogenous and therefore, have a stable and potentially tyrannical majority to the peril
of minorities. “Therefore,” he said, ” have a continental,
an extensive republic in which government protects the different and unequal capacities
of acquiring property, which guarantees a saving multiplicity of factions, which means
stable, shifting majorities that are not a threat to minorities.” Jonah: An ecosystem, in a sense. George: Yes, he had a sociology of political
virtue, and that was it. Jonah: So you’ve been busy on book tour, so
you’re probably not wading deep into the weeds on the current obsessions of pointy-headed
conservatives of different types right this moment. And actually, you’ve always kind of stayed
somewhat isolated from a lot of this stuff, which I wanna talk to you about in a little
bit. But for the last three weeks, there has emerged
what some of us are calling the French Wars. My very close friend and former colleague
at “National Review,” David French, was the target of what I would consider to be a generally
unfair attack by another friend of mine, we’re not nearly close, Sohrab Ahmari of the “New
York Post.” And it turns out that while no one was paying
attention, the Elbren Pozelle [SP] senior argument that we actually need to live in
basically a theocratic society where the state imposes a notion of the higher good or the
highest good, has erupted out of nowhere. One of the reasons why I wanna bring this
up is that I think David is a truly unfair target of all of this ire and you are actually
a far more fitting one. But I think a lot of these people are afraid
to attack you and so they go after poor David. But David is a Evangelical Christian, he’s
been fighting for Christian…you know, for religious liberty and campus free speech stuff
for decades. And his great sin is that he refuses to say
that Donald Trump is a man of good character and all of these kinds of things. George: Well he’s also accused, I gather,
of having good manners, he’s polite. Oh my god. Jonah: Yes, and there’s this theory that was
is required is to in some way imbibe the pugnaciousness of Donald Trump and that will lead to victory
of some kind. Have you weighted into any of this? George: No, I’ve watched from afar and I’ve
seen this eruption. This is an outgrowth of the Flight 93 election
syndrome which is that the end is nigh unless people listen to people like us. It’s a way of pumping up the grandeur and
magnificence and importance of people who say, “We stand at Armageddon, and things have
never been worse, but they might get worse tomorrow unless radical things are done.” Jonah: Right, and people who disagree with
you must shut up for we are at an existential crisis. George: Exactly, existential crisis, but the
self-dramatizing, things aren’t that bad. I mean, I’m not happy. No one writes political philosophy if they’re
content, right? Because you’re irritated about something or
anxious or afraid or something. But I just think this hysteria is to be ignored. Jonah: I quote you in one of my previous books. There’s a story you tell about how when you
first got your syndicated column, you called George…William F. Buckley, “How the heck
am I going to write two columns a week?” What was his advice to you? George: He said, “The world irritates me three
times a week.” He wrote three times a week. He said, “The world irritates me.” And it turns out it’s true, the world irritates
or amuses or piques my curiosity 100 times a year. I’ve never had a day when I didn’t have three
or four things I wanted to write about. Jonah: Yeah, you keep a list, right? You carry it around? George: I do, I’ve got it in my pocket. Jonah: So one of the things I think is sort
of fascinating about this moment is the conservative consensus, as the “First Things” crowd calls
is, they claim is shattered, which I think is a little bit of wish casting. But maybe they’re right. George: What was it? Jonah: Well, basically it was fusionism. Frank Meyer’s notion of balancing notions…fusionism
as shorthand is a free society can only be virtuous if virtue is freely chosen. Virtue imposed is not virtuous. And you create people that will lead themselves
to tyranny if you think that you can impose virtue from above. And Tucker Carlson, a longtime friend of mine,
Yoram Hazony, Patrick Deneen, the guys at “First Things,” Zohrab [SP], they’ve basically,
to one extent or another, it’s difficult to generalize, have turned their back primarily
on this notion of free markets. And they claim, as Tucker Carlson put it,
that the Washington consensus is that it is entirely libertarian, and that Washington
is run by libertarians. Which that is the sane response. George: Is he new? How long has he lived in this town? Jonah: Well, there’s a shell game going because
what they do is they define sort of the Lockean [SP] liberal order as essentially libertarian
because the individual autonomy of free choice is a libertarian notion, and so therefore
supporting free markets and whatnot, amounts to libertarianism. Which I think there are many stolen bases
in that journey there. George: And un-free markets amounts to what? Jonah: Immanentizing the eschaton, I don’t
know. George: Elizabeth Warrenism, socialism, whatever
we call it. Jonah: So Tucker, the other night, came out
in lavish praise on Elizabeth Warren getting on the plane. George: He should have, because he is a working-class
socialist. He’s not exactly working class. I don’t know how many of them he rubs elbows
with at the Metropolitan Club. Jonah: But he likes them. George: He likes them from a distance. Jonah: So you actually… This the gossip portion of these things. You started at “National Review” in ’71? George: ’73. Jonah: ’73. George: As Frank Meyer was dying of cancer. Jonah: Did you know Frank Meyer at all? George: I did. I went up and saw him and his wife at their…they
were at Woodstock, as I recall, in upstate, from the city in Hudson Valley. Jonah: I didn’t realize he was telecommuting
them, but… George: Well, he wasn’t. He was sick and Bill said, “You wanna be a
columnist? Could you also do the back of the book?” And I, knowing nothing about it, said, “Oh,
sure.” And that’s how I got to know Frank. Jonah: So Frank was, for those who don’t know,
was the literary editor and essentially the managing editor at least for a time of the
magazine. What was he like? George: A man with earnestness with goodwill
and cheerfulness. Jonah: What was it like working at “National
Review” back in those days? George: Well, it was great in part because
of Priscilla Buckley, Bill’s sister, who made the trains run on time. She was good. And Bill was fun. Bill is, again, cheerful. Jonah: And polite. George: Impeccably polite, yes, Frenchism. Jonah: That’s right. George: Premature Frenchism. Jonah: That’s the thing. When people ask me what it was like, I was
very lucky. There’s sort of a post-Buckley, pre-Buckley
who worked at “National Review” in my time, and I was fortunate enough to get to know
Bill and when I first…and I’ve been saying this for years. The first time I was invited to his Maisonette,
whatever you call that, on 73rd Street, I was terrified because I thought it was gonna
be Chester in quotes and Latin puns all night long. And it turns out that Bill was…if the definition
of good manners isn’t necessarily what fork to use but making people feel respected and
listened to, he’s arguably the best mannered person I’d ever met in my life. And so it was interesting. I was reading this book about Bill Rusher,
who’s the longtime publisher at “National Review,” and the author was making this point
that one of the great advantages of William F. Buckley was that at a time when the media
was so determined to make George Wallace seem like the face of what the right was, Buckley
comes along, mannered erudite, can out debate Galbraith and all these kinds of people. And even though you were annoying a good number
of people at “National Review” for calling for Spiro Agnew to be dumped from the ticket
and all your Watergate columns, at the end of the day, you were considered a net asset
because you were one of the only younger people out there who could do the similar stuff that
Buckley was doing. George: Yeah, it’s a close call, but a net
asset. Jonah: But you did not win a lot of friends
on the right back in those days. You were a harsh critic of the Nixon administration. George: Which didn’t help me. I left the Senate staff at the end of 1972
to start a column with “National Review,” and Meg Greenfield, the then Deputy Editor
of the “Washington Post” editorial page, said, “Submit the columns to us also.” So I did and they decided to start a syndication,
the “Washington Post Writers Group” in order to syndicate David Broder, but it’s as easy
to syndicate two as one. So they said, “We’ll do Will also.” So they said, “We have this great marketing
idea.” Agnew had been crashing around the country,
mow-mowing the editorial page saying there’s not enough conservative writers, nattering
nabobs of negativism and all the rest. And “The Post” said, “Fine, we’ll tell the
editors, here’s someone will at least support Nixon.” So I become a columnist in January ’73 at
about the time Judge Sirica imposes the severe penalties, probably excessive penalties, on
James McCord and others and the Watergate thing begins to unravel. So, I called it as I saw it and I thought
where there’s a lot of smoke, there’s a lot of smoke and I kept at this. And at one point, Nixon’s Chief of Staff,
Alexander Haig, called me at my home and said, “The boss really likes your writing. Maybe you’d like to come over and get on board
at the White House.” And I said, “I am extremely flattered, but
you should read my next column before you extend this offer,” and I never heard from
him again. Jonah: So over your long tenure as a columnist
and as a conservative and sort of one of the Mount Rushmore figureheads of I’d say post-’65
conservatism, you’ve managed to do two things. And one of the things is obvious to a lot
of people, which is you managed to not go native and sort of mellow. Or, I don’t know how to put this. Mellow is the wrong word. You didn’t grow as Linda Greenhouse would
put it as you… George: Strange new respect. Jonah: That’s right. As your profile increased, you still…I remember
a long time ago, this was in the ’90s, I was here at AI and you wrote a scathing column
about Dan Rostenkowski. And I remember Tom Mann being just stunned
that someone in your elite position could remain as distant from the sort of swamp stuff. The other part, which I don’t think a lot
of people understand, is that you also kinda kept at an arm’s length a lot of the sort
of conservative industrial complex stuff as well. I mean you had your start briefly… Not start but you had your time at “National
Review,” but you were in some way sort of like the “Reader’s Digest,” because… I mean this sincerely. Conservative but apart. I don’t mean silly, I mean… George: Partly it’s temperamental. Jonah: You’re not a joiner. George: Samuel Johnson described himself as
un-clubbable and I may be un-clubbable. Jonah: So going back to the days of the Nixon
stuff, were the arguments then on the right such as you were part of them, uglier or meaningfully
different than the arguments we’re having today about Trump? George: I think they were more civil and they
were more substantive and they weren’t as angry. Basically, conservatives knew what they were
angry about. First of all, the Soviet Union, which we tend
to forget has gone away and organized a lot of thinking. Arms control and all the rest. And then there was the question of pandemic
spending. This was at a time when it was still possible
to believe that Americans, conservatives in public office cared about pandemic deficits. We now know they don’t anymore, which simplifies
the argument somewhat. So it was different. Jonah: If you had to diagnose the maladies
that explain that difference, where would you…how would you do the triage of your
diagnosis there? George: Well, many conservatives have succumb
to the temptation of power, Scripture tells us, “Put not our faith in princes,” they put
their faith in a prince. And when he’s gone, they’ll pick another prince. They have fully absorbed the ethos of presidential
government, presidential society really. I mean we have…no president has ever come
to close absorbing public attention and the national consciousness, if you will, to this
one. Roosevelt, who sort of revolutionized presidential
rhetoric with using that marvelous new invention radio, never came close, never tried to come
close. How many fireside chats would he do in a year? I don’t even know. Maybe seven? That’s a pre 5:00 a.m. tweet storm by the
current person. So conservatives have happily been swept up
in the maelstrom of presidential-itis. Jonah: But isn’t part of that a symptom of
the Madisonian sociology breaking down? George: Yes. Jonah: If you had healthy institutions where
people had roots there, they might not look to Washington for a president to entertain
them or to give them meaning, whether it’s Barack Obama or Donald Trump. George: Yes, and if members of Congress did
not think of themselves as team players, either on the president’s team or on the visiting
team playing the president’s team, you would have something like the Madisonian institution
equilibrium, but that’s gone. Jonah: So doesn’t that raise the prospect
then? As much as I agree with you that persuasion
is very much important, that a huge amount of our problems lie way upstream of Washington,
which I understand that some of this is in your book, that none of the problems that
we see today, whether or not you think Donald Trump is a problem, or Barack Obama is a problem,
or the life of Julia Ethos [SP] is a problem, if you had healthier families and healthier
communities and healthier institutions like organized religion and whatnot, people would
not be looking to Washington to find meaning in their lives in the first place? George: I think that’s right. And the search for meaning and collective
action in politics is the source of…ruined the 20th Century, communism, fascism, all
the rest, the mass movements need a mass and it needs the massification of people. And what’s scary is when people embrace that
consciously and enthusiastically. Jonah: There’s that essay from Wilson about
leaders of men, where you bind up. George: Exactly. Well, in one of his I quoted, it’s an epigraph
of one of my chapters, he says, “In the good society, people will be like bees in a hive.” Very strange aspiration. But it was his. People have to calm down about politics. Government is important, free markets are
government creations, I got that. Government has lots to do, fill the potholes,
deliver the mail. I guess it doesn’t do that so much anymore,
but do whatever it does. That’s plenty. Delivering meaning isn’t one of them. Jonah: So this brings me back to the question
I asked earlier about state established churches. As I get older, I become at the federal level,
more radically libertarian than I used to be and at the local level, I get vastly more
communitarian than I used to be. What is so wrong with, first of all, bringing
back the Ninth, Tenth Amendment and all that, that would be nice, but sending as much power
down the most local level possible? George: Subsidiarity, as the Catholics say. Jonah: Right. George: Yes. Jonah: And that would… But so here’s the question. Isn’t part of the problem we have, it’s not
so much the tyranny of majorities, it’s tyranny of national majorities? I’m much less concerned about the “tyranny
of majorities” at a local level. George: That’s exactly where Madison worried
about the tyrannies, which is why he wanted the extensive republic. He said, “In a local, small area where the
anti-federalists are celebrated, you are much more apt to have stable tyrannical majorities.” We did indeed. We had localism in Jim Crow law. Jonah: Sure, no, I agree with you. Jonah: They reflected the majority opinion
in Greenville, Mississippi and in Gadsden, Alabama. And it took a national decision not to respect
local majorities, and it was a virtuous decision. Jonah: I agree with that entirely. They were democratic tyrannies and they needed
to be smashed. But they also…the issue of slavery rises
to a first order question about natural rights, the dignity of the individual and all these
kinds of things. Banning rap music or having curfews or a prohibition
on alcohol in some small town, it seems to me that’s an area where the federal government
should be entirely silent. George: Other than to say, “You can’t do it
at the local level.” That’s where you and I differ here. Jonah: Okay. George: I’m not a prohibitionist or an anti-prohibitionist. I do remember getting a jolt toward libertarianism
when I was driving with one of my children from Washington to Kiawah Island, South Carolina
where I have a home. And I stopped for the night in Florence, South
Carolina on Sunday night, looking for my evening martini, and found that the local ayatollahs
had sad that was not going to happen. And I said, “Insufferable,” and got more libertarian
as a result of that. But banning rap music, on what grounds? Exercising what power of government? What to purify the culture, to sensor offensive
speech? I don’t wanna go down that. Jonah: Yeah, no, that’s fair. I should say I’m not in favor of banning any
music or any that kind of stuff. And in fact, my positions on the local level
would be fairly libertarian about many of these things. But being able to heavily regulate what you
can do in the public square in a local area, seems to me…here’s part of my diagnosis
of the problem, is that when you send all this power to Washington or the federal regime
or whatever you wanna call it, it is inevitable that people at a local level, far away, are
gonna feel like unseen forces, whether you call them the deep state or the administrative
state or the globalists or whatever you wanna call them, that they feel powerless. And that powerlessness is the classic kindling
for populist movements. And if you send power back down to the most
local level possible, the powers that be suddenly have names and you know who to fire, and you
know how to hold them accountable. And that also means that if they have that
power, they’re gonna exercise it ways…I mean laboratories of democracy was a loaded
phrase, Brandeis had an agenda there. But letting people having the transcendental
imagination, which is a phrase you’ve used in a few columns, to make this a more interesting
country to drive across, where communities… Because as Antonin Scalia was the first to
point out to me, federalism was the best system ever conceived of for maximizing human happiness,
because it lets the most people live the way they wanna live. And that… George: And they can vote with their feet. Jonah: That’s right. George: If they don’t like California… Jonah: If you can’t get a martini in…not
Kiawah, wherever this other place was, you don’t live there. Or you do what Bill Buckley did and always
travel with your own alcohol. George: I learned my lesson. No, I agree with that. If power is to be exercised, it ought to be
exercised as much as possible at the local level. The question is how much power should be exercised
collectively through government. Jonah: Okay. That’s fair. And that’s a prudential question, I agree
with that. But when I talk to college kids about this,
you know, you have to open up by saying, “Slavery was bad, they were right to crush that. Jim Crow was bad.” I also like to point out, though, that Jim
Crow, it wasn’t capitalism, it was stateism, it was the kind of public choice factions
that you despise conspiring against the public good to rig the system to constrain the local
labor markets so black people couldn’t move, right? And so once they can see or explain all that,
I then say, “Now, do you really think that your local microbrewery needs the okay from
someone in Washington? Do you the Oregon State Health officials are
okay with this microbrewery poisoning you? Or why can’t you get unpasteurized cheese
that tastes like death without Washington’s approval?” And that part they kinda get. Because young people today, hate the homogenization
of America that they think comes from capitalism. Some of it comes from capitalism, but some
of it comes from an over-weaning federal government that runs everything, right? Anyway, that’s my…I do this often on this
podcast is rant about this. So I apologize. George: That’s all right. Jonah: You are not, in fact, pessimistic about
the future or about America? George: Well my book is a summons to intelligent
pessimism, not fatalism. Pessimism in the sense that there are so many
ways things can go wrong, and so many ways that things have gone wrong in the human story
that it is wise to be alert to the looming possibility that it’ll happen again. And we know what the problems of democracy
can be, we know some of them, and there are unimagined ones that are lurking around the
bend, so be alert, that’s all. Be wary. It’s like living in the city. There are wonderful pleasures to living in
the city, but there also requires a certain urban wariness about certain neighborhoods
and certain behaviors and you learn to live that way. It’s true of democracy. Jonah: This is a fantastic segue to the story
I wanna tell, which I don’t think you know of. So the first time we met, I was an earnest
college student at a place called Goucher College, and I was part of coeducation, so
I’m… George: This is up in Baltimore. Jonah: Up in Baltimore. I’m not quite the Rosa Parks of gender integration,
but I did my bit. And you came to give a speech, and I was invited
to the president’s house for a pre-meeting among student leaders and faculty and whatnot. And we were talking, and I begrudge you not
at all for not remembering this, and now having done so many campus visits, there are countless
people who come up to say, “You don’t remember meeting me,” and they’re right. And this was also 30-something years ago. And we were talking, and I explained to you
that Victor Lasky was my brother’s godfather and one of my father’s best friends. And for the listeners who don’t know, Victor
Lasky was a muck-raking right winger of a sort, but an interesting fellow. And my parents knew William Safire. I don’t think I told you that the first time
I met Pat Buchanan was at my bris, which was an interesting way to meet Pat Buchanan. And as my friend, Rob Long, says, “That might
explain some of his attitudes towards the Jews.” But it was all going great, and then at some
point, we were talking about New York City, where I’m from. And this was probably at the height of the
crime wave, certainly of the murder wave. And I mentioned that there times in high school
where my friends and I would walk through Central Park at night. And a look of disdain came over your face,
and you said something along lines of, “Well then you’re an idiot.” And the conversation sort of ended there. George: I see. Jonah: And that was fine, it was over and
you were actually correct. That’s fine. I’m not…again, I don’t begrudge. And so, fast forward about five years, you
were in your term limits phase when you were… Are you still on term limits? George: Yes. Beto [SP] and I are. Beto’s come out for term limits. Jonah: And we’ll come back to that in a second. I was a young policy gnome at the American
Enterprise Institute, very earnest. And you were giving your Bradley lecture about
term limits. And during the Q&A, I said, “Wouldn’t a lot
of the problems that you’re addressing be solved if we just went back to the founders’
vision about how big congressional districts should be and that we should have a Congress
of about 5,000 or 6,000 people?” And the sovereign contempt with which you
greeted this question enraged me, and people laughed at me. You won this exchange. And I heed myself to my personal monastery
of my apartment on 16th Street, and pounded the typewriter like Snoopy, coming up with
this irrefutable argument about all of this. And I worked on this and I worked on this,
and trimmed it down, and worked on it some more. And I ended up, as happenstance would have
it, it was the first op-ed I ever submitted for publication, I sent to the “Wall Street
Journal,” and they accepted it. And they sat on it for a few months, and then
the day after the election in 1992, I think it was…yeah, it was. It was Newt Gingrich, Bill Bennett and Jonah
Goldberg, and I was making the argument for expanding the size of the House of Representatives. And I did it in a fun, mirthful kind of way. But when you talk about how annoyance is your
muse, if you had not humiliated me so, I am not sure I ever would have gotten this book. So I owe it all to you. George: That’s why I did it. As Franklin Roosevelt used to say after some
fortuity had rescued him, he say, “I planned it that way.” Jonah: But I thought you should know this. George: I’m glad to know it. Jonah: Yeah. Getting back to term limits. Would you say the problem of…if you have
term limits, all you’re doing is handing power over to the sort of prominent bureaucracy
of Washington even more? George: They’re not that much more for it
to get, they’ve already done this without term limits. It is a real danger. Every reform has problems. The question is, what’s worse? And I have come to the conclusion that came
in…I wrote in ’94, I think, called “Restoration: Congress, Term Limits, and the Recovery of
Deliberate Democracy.” I understand the problem of the permanent
government, I understand the problem of the lobbyist community, I understand the problem
of draining institutional memory from the Senate and the House. Got it. I just think that there’s no safety in politics. And you’re gonna cause problems with terms
limits I just think on balance, fewer and more tractable problems. Jonah: One of the main drivers of the problem
with our politics is that despite the fact we live in one of the most partisans times
in history, our parties have never been weaker. And couldn’t some of the problems that you
identify, and again, I think you identify correctly, be solved if we actually let the
parties be stronger and having an institutional interest in protecting their own brand and
having a time horizon beyond the next election? George: Yes. And one way to do that is to abolish all campaign
finance laws, all of which I think are constitutionally problematic at best. Let the money pour back in. Reduce the role of candidates as free booting
entrepreneurs raising their own capital to invest in themselves. Let the parties distribute money the way they
used to, very good idea. Jonah: And another would be, I would argue… Because I agree with you entirely. When Mitch McConnell said, “We’re not getting
money out of politics, we’re just getting the parties out of politics,” and I think
he was proving right, but would another part of the solution be to have the parties give
up on the primary system? George: Back to the smoke-filled room in the
Blackstone Hotel in Chicago? Jonah: Pretty much. George: Yeah, but who’s gonna play Mayor Daly
and who’s gonna play Boss Haig and who’s gonna play Boss Crump [SP] and all those people? Jonah: You could just have a mixed regime. Look, Elaine Kamarck makes this point, that
America is the only advanced industrialized democracy where the parties have completely
advocated the power to pick their own nominees. And… George: Yeah, which is the most important
thing they do. Jonah: It is what they do. And I think that has been disastrous. And Yuval Levin makes this point often, that
there are…one of the signature problems with our culture is that properly understood,
what an institution does is it forges character. It forges you to give up your sort of your
Rousseau and the Noble Savage and bend yourself to the needs of the institution, Marines being
the best example of that. And Yuval identifies the problem in our culture
is that we no longer see, or too many people no longer see institutions as something that
they surrender to, they see them as platforms to perform on. And if you look at the story of Donald Trump
and Bernie Sanders, they did not see the Republican Party as an institution they should bend to,
they saw it as something at best to perform on, if not, to entertain by gladiatorially
disemboweling for public consumption. And so at the very least, you could bring
back the notion of a robust system of delegates that are actually left up to state parties,
or something like that. George: Yeah, because of the democrats have
just completed the last, to use…coin the phrase the remnant of the old way of doing
things by further reducing… I don’t know if they’ve entirely extinguished
the super delegates who are supposed to be the adults in the room. They said, “It’s our business, we are elected
officials. It’s our business to win elections. Here’s how you do it.” But that’s a lost argument. Jonah: Yeah, but as you say, our task at hand
is persuasion, right? George: Right. Jonah: And it seems to me that I would have
an easier persuading party hacks that they should have more power than I should be able
to persuade the masses that they should pick up their own damn crap, or whatever. And so I think the reason an elite play here
where you can actually persuade institutions that they deserve to have more power, and
that might be an easier job than the rest. Because what we’re heading into is a system
that was not designed to be a parliamentary system behaving like a parliamentary system. George: Yeah. Well 60 years ago, the political scientists
in America said, “If only the parties would sort themselves out on ideological grounds,
we’d have a rational politics like Europe.” Well we’ve done that and is everybody happy? Not exactly. When I came to Washington to work on the Republican
Senator’s staff, 1970, the Senate was run by Eastland of Mississippi, Stennis of Mississippi,
Richard Russell from Winder, Georgia, McClellan from Arkansas, Talmadge from Georgia. It was entirely southern democrats. Not entirely, but close enough. There are no southern conservative democrats
anymore. There are no liberal republicans anymore. And is everybody happy? I don’t think so. Jonah: So, buy gold. George: Yeah, okay. Jonah: Well, George…still very weird to
call you George, because you’re Mr. Will in my eyes. But thank you very much for doing this. Hey, everyone. That’s the end of our discussion with George
Will. Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed what you saw, remember to like
the video or leave us a comment, and be sure to check out the rest of our videos and research
from AEI.

53 thoughts on “George Will and Jonah Goldberg — The conservative sensibility | VIEWPOINT

  1. There was a time when I would have been interested in what Will and Goldberg had to say. No longer, and not because they were so wrong but because their behavior was so atrocious while being wrong.

  2. Neither Will nor Goldberg are real conservatives.
    Nation is not a mere economic zone. Its primary purpose should be to nurture and protect the people that founded it and assure a prosperous future for their children.
    Being American no longer means anything, due to charlatans like these. Fake conservatives that failed to conserve anything.
    After 80 years of lost battles, have they destroyed enough? Do they have enough decency to step aside?
    Of course not – they are here to finish the job.

  3. Clueless, technologically illiterate, effete, establishment mandarins talk about how the proles should eat cake.

  4. I used to be very interested in what these two had to say. Then I realized that their brand of neoconservatism brought us two endless wars, offshoring of millions of jobs, a decimated manufacturing segment, and it allowed us to cede all popular culture to the left. In other words THEY CONSERVED NOTHING. These effing fraudulent assholes.

    Of the two, Will is the worst by far. A reflexive Never-Trumper is, by nature, an intellectually dishonest feeble-minded douche. You cannot wait until the POTUS says something, then take the opposite view, and proceed to hold yourself up as some sort of public intellectual. He is just a pure hack.

  5. Two washed up never Trumpers lecturing the unwashed masses on how Conservative Inc. is still relevant for the country!

  6. Great interview, It’s not about conservatism or progressivism anymore, but about something I call Process-Ism; or THE JOURNEY Into REALITY.
    One Day at a Time
    JUST
    More than One Way
    BECAUSE
    Life IS Change
    Managed for The Future.

  7. What a joy to watch the show. George Will was more at home. And of course both the host and the guest were funny.

  8. My issue is with Goldberg… have been a Will fan for a few decades now. Does Goldberg ever interview anyone besides himself? Read the room, buddy… you're talking to George will and you are either trying to impress, or trying to catch Elisha's cloak. or running for office…but ask a question and step aside.

    The issue for me is reason and intellectualism. Conservatives used to be the smart people… Goldwater whose distant protege was Reagan at least surrounded himself with smart people, was followed by Bush Sr., who was smart but not a leader…Climton, who was more slick than smart, Bush Jr. was not smart at all, loved loyalty over all and then we get someone actually smart, Obama, who underestimated the power that money brought medicine, but still did some. But now we have Trump, a moron and opportunist, and is supported by Graham and McConnel who are pure politicians playing angles… All of the intelligence now is on the left… Harris, Buttigeg, and Warren.

  9. A refreshing – articulate, rational, informed, and yes polite – discussion on the significant challenges the body politic must address. Thank you, gentlemen.

  10. These two are just having a butt-sniffing contest here.
    Mind over matter.
    I don't mind 'cause they don't matter.
    Phony shitheads.
    Trump 2020 KMAGA!

  11. Georgie Porgie turned for a few dollars, not good enough to ply baseballl, not honest enough to stay a patriotic, Georgie decide to bend over to expose his feminine side , and put the money where his mouth is , sorry Georgie I don’t buy your diatribes, stupid fake anecdotes, and your fake patriotism, screw you

  12. who'd of ever thought donald trump would be the one to prove to the world what a couple of clods these guys are

  13. If you sow the wind you will reap the whirlwind. If as neocons you takeover the Republican Party and gut it out, then you get populism.

  14. So 1,000,000 pop of 13 colonies with how many actual voters were there. Not women not black native Hispanic or Asian. Those who were not of 80% of the religions of the world. Now George advocates support of top 1% along with trump. The 51% in the Senate and 160 in the house that will strip liberty and economic middle class in America.

  15. Geo offered no reform of the top. Trump just over ruled scotus decision with a tweet and DOJ and Congress and Senate have said nothing. We will await Mueller on the 17th0

  16. Congress can make no law concerning, touching on, having anything to do with establishing a religion. The restriction is much broader than just establishing a national religion. Read it!

  17. Who cares what Will thinks? The man is no longer relevant. Will no longer has a seat at the table and he is bitter.

  18. You lost me at "despising" Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was a visionary, not a victim of Zeitgeist. But, why is progressive Wilson seen as any different from progressive Theodore Roosevelt? Because he could actually express himself?

  19. I've considered myself somewhat aware of political issues. George Will has been on my radar for years. I'm adding Jonah Goldberg to that list. This was a wonderful conversation. I'm beginning to understand just how little I know.

  20. These two despise the man who is advancing the agenda for which they've advocated for decades. They despise him to the point that they would have preferred the last of the country and the constitutional system be thrown away for …some purpose I don't understand. You'll forgive me if, after many, many years, I no longer care what they think.

  21. Hillary Clinton would be president if it were up to these two. They should be on their knees thanking Trump voters across the country.

  22. The GOP under the philosophical sway of these two, one a Neocon Jew and the other a self-admitted ‘low voltage atheist’ has conserved nothing since Reagan.

  23. I can't believe this came up in my recommended. George Will is the biggest loser in politics. Pretended to be conservative for 50 years, then his true colors come out when Trump is elected. Trump has been more conservative than any president in my lifetime including Ronald Reagan. ( Whom is still a personal hero) If Trump gets a second term, he might go down as the best president ever.

  24. These are two stuffed shirt Neo Con Trump haters. I'd bet my paycheck they voted for Hillary. They ARE the Washington establishment.

  25. What is missing from this discussion is the fact that politics is the new religion. As Cesar Sayoc described a Trump rally like "a new found drug".

  26. So George and Jonah agrees with democrat policies 2% of the time,
    they agree with Trump's policies 70% of the time, and yet these two
    Never Trumpers would rather Hillary be President over Trump. Very illogical.

  27. At the (2:25) mark, George Will says, "I have noticed (and I think lots of Americans have noticed) that things aren't going well…."– presumably because of Donald Trump. But at the (14:33) mark, he scolds Trump defenders for their "self-dramatizing", saying that "things aren't that bad". These contradictory claims are striking. If things aren't that bad, why is he so contemptuous of President Trump? When things were so much worse under the previous administration, why was he so conciliatory to President Obama and Secretary Clinton? // At the (1:25) mark, Jonah Goldberg accuses Trump supporters of taking "crazy pills". Ad hominem attacks are not as effective as substantive arguments. A man of his intellect should know that. At the (13:26) mark, he says, "His [David French's] 'great sin' is that he refuses to say that Donald Trump is a man of good character…." Who has ever argued that Trump is a man of good character?! His bad deeds and character flaws are part of his resume. And who is demanding that people accept the orthodoxy of his moral purity?! No one. Jonah has simply set up and knocked down a strawmen. He should be much better than this. Washington elitism, intellectual snobbery and "Trump Derangement" are rotting his brain.

  28. "If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy."–David Frum

  29. You dont have to live in California George! You live in your elite bubble of self flatulence in Washington. We are one election away in Washington from having our nation become California. Does that concern you in the least?

  30. We now have a president who can cut through all of this intellectual baggage people like Will carry around with them. Will and his fellow travelers are left-overs, boring in their smuggery, still crawling around in the swamp and don't know it, going nowhere for anyone or anything, loving the sound of their voices. They have not learned anything about their own country. Conservatives in this nation are those who voted Trump into office and proven time and time again, every single day by the 'offended' Left who prove their hate every day for America as she was and is trying to be again.

  31. 26:OO Religion is a persistent myth.
    Review Federalist No. 51
    The best solution is for society to have a multitude of different groups and classes to prevent tyranny of any single group claiming divine right to rule.

  32. I'm not a conservative, and I don't follow what Roman Catholic conservatives say in particular, but their mention caught my attention.

    If you go back in American history, you will find RCs in the US following their bishop in Rome and criticising classical liberalism. This includes what they called Americanism, and part of it involved the separation of church and state.

    For all the complaints about Sharia having a corroding influence, these other people seem more influential. I'm not concerned about them yet, but I am not comforted by the history of devout Romanism in Europe or Latin America.

  33. At 29:11, where George cuts Jonah back on localism: clearly Goldberg has never lived in a farm-county town of 800.
    Will is absolutely correct, and I'll take his word for it that it was Madison recognizing the danger of local little dictatorships in the early-industrial America of 250 years ago.

  34. YES!! "….intellectual archeology….the foundations of the republic…" right on George. We have forgotten what it really meant to be a good conservative and moral american with a heart and an honest mind.

  35. Two Conservative Trump haters, yet Trump has a massive 94%
    approval amongst Conservatives, this must annoy these two
    neocons to no end. LMAO

  36. We need to be more like the European strain of Conservatism of Roger Scruton and Douglas Murray. Hayek wrote an important essay, "Why I Am Not a Conservative." American Conservatism is leaning further and further towards libertarianism. If we don't address the ills of liberalism and the hyper-individualism that Tocqueville warned us about, we won't conserve any of the better side of American Exceptionalism.

  37. It is annoying when the interviewer talks longer than the interviewee. I, for one, would have liked to hear more from George Will.

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