In this circa 1983 book, Will writes in tight, literate sentences, unraveling the genealogy of conservatism, questioning what it is that conservatives really believe. He asks if government should be as passive and uninvolved in society as modern conservatives seem to preach. Individualism, it seems, is not as healthy for our culture as we would believe.
It is time to come up from individualism. We have had quite enough of the Leatherstocking Tales, thank you. We need a literature of cheerful sociability, novels of social “thickness” that make society seem a complex but friendly place where social relationships facilitate rather than frustrate individualism and “self-realization.” And we need a public philosophy that can rectify the current imbalance between the political order’s meticulous concern for material well-being and its fastidious withdrawal from concern for the inner lives and moral character of citizens. In fine, we must rethink today’s constricted notion of the legitimate uses of the law.
But should the law guide and shape society? Or should it be the embodiment of societies morals?