Known primarily for his political commentary, Newsweek columnist George F. Will has shifted his attention from Washington to the nation, crisscrossing the United States to find out what makes America so distinctive for his new book, "One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation."
The frequent ABC News "This Week" panelist chronicles the lives of several figures who have helped shape the nation, including Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. and actor-turned president Ronald Reagan. He accomplishes his task with his trademark wit.
Read an excerpt of his book below.
Among the shortcomings of the current administration of the universe is the fact that Alistair Cooke is gone. The British-born journalist, who died in 2004 at age ninety-five, was one of the scarce bits of evidence that there really is an Intelligent Designer of the universe. Cooke lived in this country for sixty-seven years, producing a body of work of unrivaled perceptiveness, affectionateness, and elegance. One of his books, published in 1952, was titled One Man's America. The title of the book you are holding is one man's homage to Cooke.
Living in Manhattan and traveling around the forty-eight, and then the fifty, states, Cooke developed a thoroughly American sensibility– cheerful, inquisitive, egalitarian, droll, and enthralled without being uncritical. His delicate sensibility was apparent in his description of Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker in 1925 and editor of it until his death in 1951, as a man "who winced for a living." Cooke was so well-disposed toward America, and so utterly at home and so exquisitely well-mannered, that he did not wince promiscuously or ostentatiously. Still, wincing is, inevitably, what conscientious social commentators often do, not only in America, but especially in America.
Matthew Arnold, for example, was a fastidious social critic and hence an accomplished complainer. When he died, an acquaintance (Robert Louis Stevenson, no less) said: "Poor Matt, he's gone to Heaven, no doubt–but he won't like God." American social critics wince when this country, in its rambunctious freedom, falls short, as inevitably it does, of the uniquely high standards it has set for itself. But different things make different people wince, because sensibilities differ. And nearly four decades of observing American politics and culture have convinced me that, in both, sensibility is fundamental.
That is, people embrace a conservative (or liberal) agenda or ideology, or develop a liberal (or conservative) political and social philosophy, largely because of something basic to their nature–their temperament, as shaped by education and other experiences. Broadly–very broadly– speaking, there are, I believe, conservative and liberal stances toward life, conservative and liberal assumptions about how history unfolds, and conservative and liberal expectations about how the world works. This is one reason why we have political categories like "liberal" and "conservative": People tend to cluster. That is one reason why we have political parties.