Accusing the New Right of "marching under borrowed banners," nationally syndicated columnist George F. Will last night criticized today's conservatives for attacking big government and advocated instead "strong-government conservatism" unafraid to confront moral issues.
The United States is "threatened less by big government than by the withering away of the state" in areas of morality, Will told an audience of 250 at the Kennedy School in the first of his three Godkin lectures on "Statecraft and soulcraft: What governments do."
Discussing political thinkers from Plato--"designated hitter of the philosphers' lineup"--to Hobbes, Locke, Machiavelli, Burke and Madison, Will traced the roots of the prevailing belief that government should be neutral on social values and why he feels this viewpoint is "wrong."
Calling for increased attention to issues of morality, Will said the framers of the constitution designed it "to work without good motives" but that the nation should consider morality in addition to self-interest.
Will insisted that a democratic government must be a "tutor to its citizens" and drew on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to warn that a society resting only on materialistic interests would become internally weak.
Will argued that "modernity" has made the U.S. vulnerable because it has made our sense of "citizenship" and "warmth" become "thin gruel".
He questioned the label of conservatism for those who call the government "an incompetent klutz when helping Cleveland" and then demand billions of dollars for defense. Those who call themselves conservatives today differ only marginally from liberals, Will said, and therefore are "impotent in their criticism of liberalism."