… is from page xxix of George Will’s superb 2019 work, The Conservative Sensibility:
The American project, distilled to its essence, was, and the conservative project is, to demonstrate that a government constructed on the assumptions of natural rights must be limited government. The natural rights theory is that individuals in the state of nature possess rights that pre-exist government; that government is created for the limited purpose of securing those rights; and that the individual surrenders some sovereignty to government on the basis of a rational calculation that government secure more sovereignty than it requires to be surrendered.
DBx: This project is indeed the American one. And this American project is indeed noble. Yet it is unclear if it will succeed over the long run.
A good case can be made that, up until now and largely (if hardly perfectly), it in fact has succeeded. But is two and a half centuries long enough to count as the long run? This span of time certainly spans several generations; in that sense it’s long. But in another sense it’s not at all long. Consider that my own life – I was born in 1958 – overlaps those of many individuals who were alive when Lincoln still breathed, and that when Lincoln was born not 33 years had passed since Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. From this perspective, the American project remains quite young.
Will this project succeed for several more generations? I have serious doubts. We might keep it on life support for a bit longer – and any such ‘success’ would be no mean achievement. I’ll certainly work toward this goal for the remainder of my days.
But no government will long bargain fairly with those over whom it wields the sword – or the cage, or the taser, or the gun, or the bazooka, or whatever weapon is most effective du jour. And the typical person seems to me to be far more interested in enjoying the sensation (however false) of safety from reality, and of being on the winning ‘team,’ than in being a free and responsible man or woman.
Liberalism – true, civilizing, enriching, peaceable liberalism – is likely not in our genes. I fiercely hope that history proves my pessimism to be unwarranted.