Will, George F(rederick) 1941-
WILL, George F(rederick) 1941-
PERSONAL: Born May 4, 1941, in Champaign, IL; son of Frederick L. (a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Illinois) and Louise Will; married Madeleine Marion, 1967 (divorced, 1989); married Mari Maseng (a public relations director), 1991; children: Jonathan, Geoffrey, Victoria. Education: Trinity College, B.A., 1962; attended Magdalen College, Oxford, 1962-64; Princeton University, Ph.D., 1967. Politics: Conservative. Hobbies and other interests: Baseball.
ADDRESSES: Office—c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071.
CAREER: Michigan State University, East Lansing, professor of politics, 1967-68; University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, professor of politics, 1968-69; U.S. Senate, Washington, DC, congressional aide to Senator Allott of Colorado, 1970-72; National Review, New York, NY, Washington editor, 1972-76; Newsweek, contributing editor, 1976—; Washington Post, syndicated columnist, 1974—; writer. Panelist, Agronsky and Company, Post-Newsweek Stations, 1979-84; participant, This Week with David Brinkley, American Broadcasting Co. (ABC-TV), beginning 1981; commentator, World News Tonight, ABC-TV, beginning 1984; member of board of directors of the Center for Strategic International Studies; member of board of directors Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres.
MEMBER: Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission, Emil Verban Society.
AWARDS, HONORS: Named Young Leader of America, Time, 1974; Pulitzer Prize, 1977, for distinguished commentary; honorary degrees from the University of San Diego, 1977, Dickinson College and Georgetown University, both 1978, and the University of Illinois, 1988.
(Editor) Robert L. Bartley and others, Press, Politics, and Popular Government, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (Washington, DC), 1972.
The Pursuit of Happiness, and Other SoberingThoughts, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
(With Michael Novak) Solzhenitsyn and American Democracy, Ethics and Policy Center (Washington, DC), 1981.
The Pursuit of Virtue, and Other Tory Notions, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982.
Statecraft As Soulcraft: What Government Does, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses,1981-1986, Free Press (New York, NY), 1986.
The New Season: A Spectator's Guide to the 1988Election, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1987.
Suddenly: The American Idea Abroad and at Home,1986-1990, Macmillian (Toronto, Canada), 1990.
Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
Restoration: Congress, Term Limits, and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
The Leveling Wind: Politics, the Culture, and OtherNews, 1990-1994, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
The Woven Figure: Conservatism and America's Fabric, 1994-1997, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997.
Bunts: Curt Flood, Camden Yards, Pete Rose, andOther Reflections on Baseball, Scribner (New York, NY), 1998.
With a Happy Eye but. . .: America and the World, 1997-2002, Free Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Author of a syndicated column for the Washington Post, 1974—, and for Newsweek; columnist for the New York Daily News. Contributor to London Daily Telegraph and other periodicals. Contributing editor, Newsweek, 1976—.
SIDELIGHTS: George F. Will, author of bi-weekly columns for the Washington Post and Newsweek and a frequent television commentator, is "the most widely read and heard political commentator in America," according to Sally Bedell Smith in the New York Times. "Mr. Will's arrival," continued Smith, "has been hailed by conservatives as the first opportunity for a bona fide thinker from among their ranks to have what William F. Buckley calls 'a presence in the room' after years of dominance by what they regard as liberal opinion." A winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1977 for distinguished commentary, Will writes conservative essays and articles "with a rhythmic cadence that combines logic and literary allusion in concise proportion," said Christian Science Monitor contributor Alan L. Miller. These views, however, deviate considerably from what is usually considered to be mainline conservatism. "I trace the pedigree of my philosophy to [Edmund] Burke, [John Henry] Newman, [Benjamin] Disraeli, and others who were more skeptical, even pessimistic, about the modern world than most people who call themselves conservatives," Will told Miller. Nelson W. Polsby phrased the journalist's beliefs this way in a Fortune article: "Will's political philosophy presupposes the primacy of the social order itself and is concerned with the means by which citizens can be encouraged to place civic responsibilities above their own interests."
The Pursuit of Happiness, and Other Sobering Thoughts, Will's first book, is a collection of 138 previously-published essays that express his philosophy while discussing subjects ranging from politics to the author's personal life. Behind this diverse variety of topics lies the consistent opinion in the columnist's essays that American society has degenerated in the last few decades. Will "thinks Americans have become materialistic, selfish, pretentious, and morally flabby, with barely any private, let alone public, sense of what is genuinely important and excellent," wrote New York Review of Books critic Ronald Dworkin. This is also the attitude that permeates the author's second book, The Pursuit of Virtue, and Other Tory Notions, which New Republic contributor Charles Krauthammer called a "textbook of American cultural conservatism" that is "pithy, epigrammatic, and often elegant."
Several critics have praised Will for his wit, but Joseph Sobran wrote in the National Review that what is important is the journalist's "larger gift of knowing what needs to be said, of summoning up a truth whose absence others hadn't even felt." A number of other reviewers, however, have strongly disagreed with Will's views, since, as Dworkin noted, his definition of conservatism "is not . . . how conservative politicians define conservatism....Will thinks they are hopelessly wrong about what conservatism is: he means to define 'true' conservatism, not what passes for political rhetoric." In Statecraft As Soulcraft: What Government Does, Will attempts to clarify his beliefs in an extensive treatise on the role of government. The "book has received a mixed, generally unenthusiastic reception," remarked James Nuechterlein in Commentary. "The fullest expression of Will's philosophy yet—there is nothing new here for regular readers of his columns—it has encountered far more intellectual resistance than Will's ideas had earlier run into."
Unlike Will's essay collections, which often use specific examples of political cases in order to illustrate his general ideas about society, Statecraft As Soulcraft does not deal in particulars. A number of critics claimed, therefore, that the book's general thesis that government should instill virtue within its citizens is never fully elucidated. "Will never really tells us 'what government does,'" said National Review contributor M. E. Bradford. "We hear of a noble 'ethic of common provision,' meaning, concretely, the welfare state....Butweare left to speculate for ourselves" what this entails. However, this lack of a definite outline as to how a government should be run is not a drawback for the book, according to New York Times Book Review critic Michael J. Sandel. The "purpose is less to promote particular programs than to change the character and tone of the debate," said Sandel. As the author himself says in Statecraft As Soulcraft, "My aim is to recast conservatism."
Discussing Statecraft As Soulcraft, Nuechterlein related that in Will's opinion "what is wrong with American conservatism . . . traces back to flawed philosophic assumptions on the part of the nation's founders." Sobran goes on to explain how the author believes that "America was conceived in coarseness. Its Founders . . . sought to organize American society on the sovereign principle of self-interest," rather than on the promotion of public virtue. This latter view of the proper role of government, which goes back to Aristotle's time, has been called "aristocratic" by reviewers like Sobran, because it is founded on the assumption that there exists in society a natural order in which some people were meant to govern, while others were meant to be governed. Bruce R. Sievers wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that this Burkeian idea to which Will adheres has a "dark side" in its potential to encourage the "uncritical acceptance of privilege for its own sake under the guise of 'tradition.'"
Despite these reservations about Statecraft As Soulcraft, several critics viewed the book as a significant commentary on politics. "Will has written a fascinating, and profoundly important, work of contemporary political philosophy," claimed Sievers. And Nuechterlein added that "even those who deplore Will's politics express admiration for the subtlety and sophistication of his arguments as well as the elegance of his prose." Nuechterlein also noted, however, that the author's "columns, taken together, offer a richer and more satisfactory (if less systematic) public philosophy than does his book."
Will has been "generally credited with exerting influence among policy-makers in Washington," Smith wrote in the New York Times—especially during the Reagan years. Nevertheless, Will slyly downplays the extent of his influence. "The idea that multitudes will be driven to their knees by the force of my words is silly," he told Smith. Yet he also says in a Newsweek article that commentaries such as those he offers are indispensable. "There is a scarcity of reasoned, civilized discourses in the world," he insists. "With such discourse we can stand anything. Without it we are doomed."
Will's political associations were thrown into the spotlight in 1983, the same year Statecraft As Soulcraft was published, and the year he was voted the journalist most admired by senators, congressmen, and their staffs. Will became entangled in a minor scandal involving the 1980 Reagan-Carter debates: it appeared that Reagan's team had stolen President Carter's briefing papers and used them, with Will's help, to coach their candidate. Later, after the debate, Will praised Reagan for his superior performance. Although there was never any formal backlash, some journalists felt that Will had betrayed his integrity; a contributor to Time magazine accused him of "hobnobbery journalism" and the New York Daily News dropped Will's column.
Despite this minor setback, Will continued to reign as one of America's most esteemed commentators. Will's next works, The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses, 1981-1986 and The New Season: A Spectator's Guide to the 1988 Election, return to his original essay-collection format. Like the author's other publications, they have been lauded for their entertaining and skillful style. For example, Tribune Books reviewer Clarence Petersen called Will's essays in The Morning After "superbly crafted, witty and skeptical." Although Ronald Steel admitted in his Los Angeles Times Book Review article that "there is considerable skill at ridicule" in The Morning After, he stated that there is "little effort to understand, much less sympathize" with those who hold different philosophical positions. In The New Season, however, Will's steadfast views offer a certain advantage, according to Washington Post Book World critic William V. Shannon, because "there is no gross partisanship in Will's comments" about the 1988 election. But there is, Shannon acknowledged, "much good sense and even wisdom."
In Restoration, Will examines—and advocates—the imposition of term limits for members of both the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. Seeking to "restore" America's "deliberative democracy," Will argues that a limit of twelve years' service—six terms in the House, two in the Senate—would, as Joseph A. Califano paraphrased in the New York Times Book Review, impel "congressmen and senators [to] lead (rather than bow to fickle crowds), be less arrogant (no more abuse of banking or franking privileges), debate thoughtfully (rather than manipulate procedures so they can record votes on both sides of the same issue), trim the pork and move Congress to its rightful place at the front of the Government bus." Califano suggested, however, that term limits "simply cannot carry that much political water" and claimed that they do not address the realities and vicissitudes of modern politics. Writing in the National Review, however, William F. Buckley, Jr., maintained that the idea of term limits is a solid one and needs to be pursued at the local, state, and national levels. "Restoration," noted Buckley, "is singular in several respects. George Will presents it not merely as an act of civic celebration, but as an opening gun in a campaign he intends to engage in a outrance."
In 1995 Will published another collection of his articles, columns, and speeches entitled The Leveling Wind: Politics, the Culture and Other News, 1990-1994. The pieces gathered here represent Will's typically articulate and conservative examinations of the nation's ills. In the various essays Will points to the "welfare culture," the "entitlement mentality," the great number of illegitimate births recorded in the country, and the "bloated" government's inability to adequately educate its children and police its streets as among the main problems plaguing the United States. Paul Weissman in The New York Times Book Review concluded that Will "could . . . profitably abandon his forays into artistic criticism, where his often banal judgments are of far less interest than his views on politics." But R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., commented in the National Review, "Will has always been a sober, civilized man with serious political principles buttressed by wise historical insights."
Will's political position during the Clinton and Bush years proved to be different than his close association with the White House during Reagan's presidency, and his next collection of essays, With a Happy Eye but...: America and the World, 1997-2002, reflects this change. Commenting on the new state of right-wing politics, Louis Bayard wrote in Salon, "the genteel harrumphs of William F. Buckley and James J. Kilpatrick have given way to the braying outrage of Rush Limbaugh and Brit Hume," and went on to ponder Will's place amongst his fellow commentators. "Will, however, has always been better as a contrarian than an insider," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Will addresses various issues, from the Boy Scoutsgay rights controversy to the Unabomber attacks to his distaste for the Clintons. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that some of the issues were "outdated" and noted that many of the columns "feel like curious relics of a pre-September 11th world." Bayard, too, commented that "Will is strangely silent on the whole subject of George W. [Bush]." Nonetheless, Bayard was impressed by Will's ability to create "synthetic bridges between past and present." Bayard concluded, "I can't think of any other mass-media columnist who can so readily avail himself of civilization's contents as Will does....Willcan discourse knowledgably on every thing from the Hegelian theory of history to the rape of Nanking and make it all seem uniquely relevant."
Even though Will's positions have stirred controversy among mainstream conservatives, he has remained "one of the strongest and most constructive conservative voices addressing contemporary issues, from abortion to impeachment," said Polsby. "His opinions," the reviewer continued, "grounded in serious consideration of basic philosophical questions, are almost always of the greatest interest." With his frequent appearances on television and regularly published columns in widely-read magazines, Will's views reach some twenty million people, estimated Smith in the New York Times.
"Mr. Will's only noticeable less-than-respectable passion in life appears to be a rock-ribbed loyalty to the Chicago Cubs," noted Neal Johnston in the New York Times Book Review; in fact, Will's book Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball is devoted to the subject of baseball, a sport he sometimes alludes to as an example of one of the few virtuous pursuits left in today's society. Indeed, Will sees sports in general—and baseball in particular—as "a circumscribed area of controlled striving and, in a limited sense, is a model of a good society, where rules are respected and excellence is rewarded," as quoted by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison in the New York Times Book Review. In Men at Work Will closely examines the work ethics and professional habits of four well-known major leaguers: manager Tony La Russa, pitcher Orel Hershiser, hitting champion Tony Gwynn, and baseball's ironman and defensive star Cal Ripken, Jr. Favorably reviewing the book in the Sewanee Review, Robert B. Heilman wrote that Men at Work contains "a remarkable union of vast information, technical competence, expository skill, ironic sense, witty observation, philosophic inclination, and keen but not hectoring moral awareness. Will is equally adept in explaining how different pitches are thrown and behave en route, the multiple ways in which pitcher and batter try to evaluate, deceive and coerce each other, the qualities by which some players survive and others don't, the impact of personality on performance, historical trends that intimate the decline and fall of clubs, [and] the shifts in emphasis that over time make significant changes in the game without altering its essential identity."
Will addresses baseball again—and again impresses readers with his love of the game—in Bunts: Curt Flood, Camden Yards, Pete Rose, and Other Reflections on Baseball. Jerry Gladman wrote on the Canoe Web site that when Will "starts talking baseball . . . you quickly realize that as bookish and droll as he appears, this fellow has another, richer side to him." In Bunts, Will reveals that his contrarian, conservative leanings grew out of "a lifetime of rooting for those traditional losers, the Chicago Cubs," Gladman explained. Some reviewers claimed that Will devoted too much of his book to bemoaning the Cubs' poor record, but in general, support for the book was enthusiastic. Gladman calls some of the columns—especially those featuring Will's revered baseball heroes—"personalized love letters, written with the kind of grace with which Dimaggio played"; and Library Journal's Ray Vignovich called Bunts "a home run!"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Almanac of Famous People, 6th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Kohn, George C., editor, New Encyclopedia of American Scandal, Checkmark (New York, NY), 2001.
Murray, Michael D., editor, Encyclopedia of TelevisionNews, Oryx Press (Westport, CT), 1999.
Nimmo, Dan, and Chevelle Newsome, editors, Political Commentators in the United States in the 20th Century: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1997.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Will, George F., Statecraft As Soulcraft: What Government Does, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
America, August 11, 1990, James DiGiacomo, review of Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, p. 90; June 8, 1991, Marilyn Thie, "Suddenly: The American Idea Abroad and at Home, 1986-1990 by George F. Will," pp. 628-30.
American Spectator, July, 1990, review of Men atWork, p. 38; January, 1991, Matthew Scully, review of Suddenly, p. 40; February, 1994, Tim W. Ferguson, "Good Will," p. 64.
Atlantic, May, 1983, James Fallows, review of Statecraft As Soulcraft, p. 98.
Booklist, July, 2002, review of With a Happy Eye but...: America and the World, 1997-2002, p. 1799; August, 2002, Mary Carroll, review of With a Happy Eye But . . . , p. 1883.
Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1988; April 1, 1990.
Christian Science Monitor, April 21, 1982; May 18, 1983; February 13, 1986; July 16, 1998, review of Bunts: Curt Flood, Camden Yards, Pete Rose, and Other Reflections on Baseball, p. B6.
Commentary, October, 1983, James Nuechterlein, "George Will and American Conservatism," p. 35; September, 1990, Edward Norden, review of Men at Work, p. 56; February, 1993, Terry Eastland, review of Restoration: Congress, Term Limits, and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy, p. 53.
Fortune, July 25, 1983, Nelson W. Polsby, review of Statecraft As Soulcraft, p. 103.
Harvard Law Review, January, 1984.
Journal of American History, June, 1994, Peter Knupfer, "Review—Restoration: Congress, Term Limits, and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy by George F. Will," p. 355; December, 1995, George B. Kirsch, "Baseball," p. 1314.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of With aHappy Eye but . . . , p. 1115.
Library Journal, February 15, 1990, William H. Hoffman, review of Men at Work, p. 192; November 1, 1990, Thomas A. Karel, review of Suddenly, p. 115; December, 1990, George Needham, review of Men at Work, p. 184; November 15, 1991, Bruce Connolly, review of Men at Work, p. 138; November 1, 1992, Thomas J. Baldino, review of Restoration, p. 105; November 1, 1994, Chet Hagan, review of The Leveling Wind: Politics, the Culture, and Other News, p. 94; February 1, 1998, review of Bunts, p. 93; June 1, 1998, Ray Vignovich, review of Bunts, p. 193.
Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1982.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 26, 1983; November 30, 1986; December 6, 1987; May 27, 1990.
Maclean's, June 22, 1998, D'Arcy Jenish, "Casting the Spell of Adventure," p. 52.
Nation, October 14, 1978; March 27, 1982, Benjamin DeMott, "The Pursuit of . . . Charm," p. COV; July 23, 1983, "No Triumph of Will," p. 67; November 5, 1990, Alexander Cockburn, "I Dreamed I Read George Will Last Night," p. 515; November 18, 1991, Garrett Epps, "Will Power," p. 612; October 19, 1992, Peter Schrag, review of Restoration, p. 445.
National Review, June 9, 1978; June 25, 1982, Joseph Sobran, review of The Pursuit of Virtue, and Other Tory Notions, p. 772; June 10, 1983, Joseph Sobran, review of Statecraft As Soulcraft, p. 696; April 16, 1990, Jeffrey Hart, review of Men at Work, p. 48; November 16, 1992, William F. Buckley, Jr., review of Restoration, p. 53; January 23, 1995, Emmett R. Tyrell, Jr., "Alone Again, Naturally—The Leveling Wind by George F. Will," p. 64; March 9, 1998, Matthew Scully, review of The Woven Figure: Conservatism and America's Fabric, 1994-1997, p. 62.
New Republic, June 10, 1978; June 16, 1982, Charles Krauthammer, review of The Pursuit of Virtue, and Other Tory Notions, p. 26; April 16, 1990, Joseph Nocera, review of Men at Work, p. 43; October 12, 1992, Sean Wilentz, review of Restoration, p. 40; February 20, 1995, "Where There's a Will," p. 10.
Newsweek, September 30, 1974; April 16, 1990, David Gates, review of Men at Work, p. 89; June 15, 1998, review of Bunts, p. 67.
New York Review of Books, October 12, 1978; October 11, 1990, p. 4; November 19, 1992, p. 28.
New York Times, May 16, 1983, Walter Goodman, Statecraft As Soulcraft, p. 15; May 19, 1985, Sally Bedell Smith, "Conservatism Finds Its TV Voice," p. H332.
New York Times Book Review, June 11, 1978; March 28, 1982, Neal Johnston, Pursuit of Virtue, and Other Tory Notions, section 7, p. 16; July 17, 1983, Michael J. Sandel, review of Statecraft As Soulcraft, section 7, p. 6; November 2, 1986, Randall Rothenberg, review of The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses, 1981-1986, p. 14; January 3, 1988; April 1, 1990, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, review of Men at Work, p. 1, and Joseph A. Cincotti, "It Started with the Cubs," p. 17; December 23, 1990; September 27, 1992, Joseph A. Califano, review of Restoration, p. 7; January 8, 1995, Paul Weissman, review of The Leveling Wind, p. 24; May 31, 1998, Bill James, review of Bunts, p. 10.
People, September 19, 1983, Carol Wallace, "George and Madeleine Will Have the Government Cornered: He Writes about It and She Serves in It," p. 103; May 14, 1990, Lorenzo Carcaterra, review of Men at Work, p. 33; July 9, 1990, Jack Friedman, "Turning from Politics, George Will Writes a Love Story about Men and Baseball," p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, February 23, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Men at Work, p. 208; March 16, 1990, Sam Staggs, "George Will: The Columnist and Author Emphasizes That American Society Has Much to Learn from Baseball," p. 54; November 2, 1990, Gayle Feldman, "Philip Slater, George Will on the Great American Malaise," p. 42; July 8, 2002, review of With a Happy Eye but . . . , p. 39.
Reason, February, 1993, p. 49.
Saturday Review, March, 1982, David Bell, review of The Pursuit of Virtue, and Other Tory Notions, p. 66.
Sewanee Review, fall, 1991.
Sports Illustrated, May 15, 1995, p. 24.
Time, August 8, 1983, Thomas Griffith, "The Danger of Hobnobbery Journalism," p. 122; April 1, 1985, Thomas Griffith, "Five Who Dominate TV News," p. 72; October 28, 1991, "Married, George Will and Mari Maseng," p. 89; May 15, 1995, p. 27.
Times Literary Supplement, May 25, 1984.
Tribune Books (Chicago), November 8, 1987.
USA Today, September, 1990, Gerald F. Kreyche, review of Men at Work, p. 96.
Wall Street Journal, May 8, 1998, Richard J. Tofel, review of Bunts, p. W10.
Washington Post Book World, June 11, 1978; March 21, 1982; June 5, 1983; November 30, 1986; November 29, 1987; September 20, 1992.
Whole Earth Review, winter, 1995, Bruce Chase, review of The Leveling Wind, p. 71.
Armchair QB Book Reviews,http://www.armchairqb.com/newsstand/ (March 7, 2003), David Kozo, "A Killer Father's Day Book."
Canoe,http://www.canoe.ca/ (June 6, 1998), Jerry Gladman, review of Bunts.
Salon,http://www.salon.com/ (October 3, 2002), Louis Bayard, "A Dying Breed."*