George Will advocates for rational conservatism

Columnist George Will advocated for a rational brand of conservatism in a Thursday afternoon talk.
Columnist George Will advocated for a rational brand of conservatism in a Thursday afternoon talk. Photo by Jennifer Cheung.

Describing Ann Coulter as an “enemy” to the pursuit of an intellectual brand of conservatism, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George F. Will delivered an impassioned defense of the right in America Thursday afternoon.

Sponsored by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, the talk was titled “Up From Liberalism, Yet Again” and drew hearty applause from the audience, which included roughly 150 students, professors and community members in Linsly-Chittenden Hall. Will, whose biweekly column runs in The Washington Post and is syndicated in about 400 publications throughout the country, argued for conservative ideology and sought to inspire young conservatives in the audience. During his talk, Will advocated for a rational brand of conservatism founded in federalist virtues dating to the country’s founding.

“American politics today is very much a continuation of the argument that the founders had,” Will said. “The story of American politics today is the rivalry of two Princetonians.”

Will framed the major tension in American politics as one between James Madison, the Federalist president and a Princeton alumnus, who sought to prevent majority tyranny by ensuring government is made up of an unstable amalgamation of minority parties, and Woodrow Wilson, the progressive president and former leader of Princeton University, who laid the foundation for modern progressivism through his belief in a more unified government for a more unified society.

The nation is embroiled in a debate over whether “government exists with limited powers to secure our rights” or whether it has huge powers “to metastasize and intervene in every facet of life,” Will said.

“When you hear it said that government is dysfunctional, the system that Madison designed is working,” Will said. “The American system is designed to make people wait until concurrent majorities [exist] because we want a government safe in securing our rights.”

Often described as the poet laureate of the conservative movement, Will pushed his audience to consider the role government plays in shaping the habits, customs and dispositions of its citizens.

The advent of new technology, from the telegraph to the television and Internet, has drastically changed the game of politics, Will said. Arguing that academia and the media are on the side of the liberals, Will expressed confidence that conservatives will be able to limit government because of the “arithmetic,” or the lack of fiscal sustainability of government programs like Social Security.

But Will did not shirk from the challenges facing the conservative movement, including appealing to a wider subset of voters.

Students interviewed said they enjoyed Will’s talk and found his message resonant.

Konrad Coutinho ’13 said he appreciated that Will shared his belief that the country’s founders intended Washington to encounter its modern dysfunction, adding that such arguments are generally unpopular on campus.

Carolyn Hansen ’16, a Buckley Program fellow, said she thinks Will’s rational ideals appeal to Yale’s conservatives.

“He is an example of what most conservatives at Yale are striving for,” she said.

Will has been syndicated since 1974.

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