George Will Defines What Makes America Interesting

This collection of my writings is not designed to recapitulate the large events of recent years. Consider this volume an almost entirely Iraq-free zone. Rather, it is intended to illustrate, regarding smaller (but not necessarily minor) matters, how one conservative's sensibility responds to myriad provocations and pleasures. At a moment when there is considerable doubt and rancor about what it means to be a conservative, perhaps this collection will provide a useful example.

Time flies when you're having fun, and also when you're not. Time is, of course, magnificently indifferent to whether or not people enjoy what occurs as it passes. The first years of the twenty-first century have not been, on balance, enjoyable for Americans. These have been years characterized by a miasma of anxiety about a new and shadowy terrorist threat to security, and a torrent of acrimony about the dubious inception and incompetent conduct of a war that became perhaps the worst foreign policy debacle in the nation's history. (Well, I said this book would be an almost entirely Iraq-free zone.)

Lucretius (as translated by Dryden) wrote about the enjoyment people sometimes derive from watching other people in peril:

'Tis pleasant, safely to behold from shore, The rolling ship, and hear the tempest roar. But Americans have not felt safe ashore–not safe from foreigners who wish them ill, not safe from unusually virulent domestic squabbles.

And Americans have not suffered from any insufficiency of journalism and other hectoring. The simultaneous arrival of saturation media (broadcast, podcast, Internet, etc.) and uncivil discourse might be a matter of mere correlation, not causation. It would, however, not be rash to think otherwise.

Anyway, it would be almost impertinent to ask readers to revisit commentary focused on the largest, and painfully familiar, events of these bleak years. I do not do so in this, the eighth collection of my columns, book reviews, and other writings. If, in any given year, more than a dozen of my columns were not about books, I would think that I had not done my job properly. This is because, for all the fascination with new media, I believe that books remain the most important carriers of ideas, and ideas are always the most important news. Hence books themselves are often news.

With this volume, I am taking a different approach. The essays in the first seven were selected and arranged in order to give readers a retrospective tour d'horizon, a look back at the political and cultural controversies of the four or five years from which the writings were drawn. In this volume, I hope to illustrate how one conservative's sensibility responded to disparate people, stories, and events.

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