In 1975, shortly after she was elected leader of the Tories, Margaret Thatcher found herself in a debate over the party platform. As one speaker called for moderation and accommodation with Labour, Thatcher reached into her briefcase, pulled out a heavy book, and said, “This is what we believe.” Then she slammed the book on a table. It was Hayek's Constitution of Liberty.
George Will may have had this anecdote in mind when he began work on The Conservative Sensibility. The syndicated columnist's 15th book is weighty, learned, comprehensive, philosophical, and perfect for thumping on furniture. “What I have written,” Will says, “is the distilled wisdom, as I understand this, that I have acquired from half a century in Washington, my home, which I love.” Admirers of Will — I plead guilty — now have what amounts to a definitive statement, a summation of his remarkable career in journalism and politics.
Like many careers, Will's began by chance. He was a 28-year-old professor at the University of Toronto when Everett Dirksen, leader of the Senate Republicans, died in 1969. Soon thereafter, Senator Gordon Allott of Colorado was elevated to chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. Allott wanted a conservative academic as his writer. One thing led to another, and Will, who recently had made his first contribution to National Review, got the job. He moved to D.C. in January 1970.
Allott was defeated two years later. Looking for work, Will called William F. Buckley Jr. and said this publication needed a Washington editor. Buckley agreed. He also made Will the book editor, replacing Elsie Meyer, who had been filling the role of her husband Frank since his death the previous April. Will's first “Capitol Issues” column appeared in the February 2, 1973, issue. “It is possible,” he wrote, “that this president, beginning his second term in an unusually sullen Washington, will re-invigorate the Congress.” More than possible, as it turned out.