George F. Will

Washington, D.C.

 George Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977. He is also a regular contributor to MSNBC and NBC News. "The Conservative Sensibility," his latest book, was released in June 2019. His other works include: “One Man’s America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation” (2008), “Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy” (1992), “Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball” (1989), “The New Season: A Spectator’s Guide to the 1988 Election” (1987) and “Statecraft as Soulcraft” (1983). Will grew up in Champaign, Ill., attended Trinity College and Oxford University, and received a PhD from Princeton University. 
Honors & Awards:
  • 1977 Pulitzer Prize for commentary
  • 1979 National Magazine Awards: Finalist in the essay and criticism category
  • 1978 National Headliners Award
  • 1980 Silurian Award for editorial writing
  • 1985 The Washington Journalism Review named Will best writer, any subject
  • 1997 Named among the 25 most influential Washington journalists by the National Journal
Books by George F. Will:  

The Pursuit of Happiness and Other Sobering Thoughts

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The Pursuit of Virtue and Other Tory Notions

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The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses 1981-1986

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Suddenly: The American Idea Abroad and at Home 1986-1990

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The Leveling Wind: Politics, the Culture, and Other News, 1990-1994

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The Woven Figure: Conservatism and America's Fabric

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With a Happy Eye, But ... America and the World, 1997-2002

Buy it from Amazon

One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation

Buy it from Amazon

Statecraft as Soulcraft

Buy it from Amazon

The New Season: A Spectator's Guide to the 1988 Election

Buy it from Amazon

Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball

Buy it from Amazon

Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy

Buy it from Amazon

The Conservative Sensibility

Buy it from Amazon
Recent Articles

GEORGE WILL COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Will clients only)

By GEORGE F. WILL

HONG KONG -- Physically diminutive, intellectually acerbic and with an eye for the ironic, Margaret Ng -- lawyer, writer and former legislator -- is, at 71, a member of the generation for which this city's youthful protesters have scant patience. They say the elders have been too patient about Hong Kong's precarious situation. But, says Ng dryly, the youths frequently welcome assistance from the older generation's lawyers.

With her closely cropped gray hair and an obvious abundance of wisdom acquired from Hong Kong's many high-stakes controversies, Ng, who plainly states facts as she sees them through her round spectacles, resembles an owl with an attitude. She says Hong Kong's situation is "desperate": "Under the veneer of a free city, we are under Beijing's control." Today the city is a "hair's breadth from destruction." She is particularly distressed by police violence, which is a departure from the professional policing bequeathed to this city from its last three decades of colonial rule. Recently the police have prevented, sometimes for hours, first-aid providers from attending to those the police have injured. The city government under Beijing's puppet, Carrie Lam, is increasingly resorting to the policy Ng calls "beat up, lock up and silence."

Lam and her Beijing masters are learning that what Gen. Douglas MacArthur said of military disasters -- that all are explained, in one way or another, by two words: "too late" -- is also often true in politics. In April, Lam ignited a long hot summer by refusing to amend an extradition bill that would have facilitated, by regularizing, Beijing's penchant for kidnapping into its Kafkaesque criminal justice system inconvenient Hong Kong booksellers and other affronts to totalitarianism. If Lam had promptly done what she has done five months too late -- unambiguously withdrawn the bill -- the protests might have dissipated. Instead, they have metastasized, as has the protesters' agenda, which now includes more meaningful suffrage -- ending Beijing's role in approving candidates -- and an independent review of police behavior.

At a recent lunch at the Hong Kong Club, there were three generations of democracy advocates around a table seating eight. At one end of the age spectrum was Martin Lee Chu-ming, 81, the founding chairman of the city's principal pro-democracy party. At the other end was Joshua Wong, a prodigy of protesting who, given the stressful life he lives, might in a few years look as old as he now is (22). He was an organizer of the 2014 demonstrations against Beijing's truncation of popular sovereignty by stipulating those for whom Hong Kongers could vote.

The lunchtime gathering stressed that the agenda does not include independence for a sovereign Hong Kong. Lam and Beijing should, however, remember that events can generate their own logic: In the early 1770s, restive American colonists, chafing under some annoyances imposed by London, insisted that they sought only restoration of the status quo -- enjoyment of their traditional British rights. But spilled blood -- on Lexington green, at Concord Bridge, and elsewhere -- quickly led to July 4, 1776.

"Do you remember the Cheshire Cat?" Ng asks, invoking the creature in "Alice in Wonderland" that in one scene slowly disappears, leaving nothing but its grin. Hong Kong could slowly disappear except for its veneer. Or quickly. "Is [Beijing] prepared to kill Hong Kong?" Ng asks. Young people here, "who have nowhere else to go," increasingly think they have nothing to lose. Some of them "carry their last wills in their pockets."

They know they are dealing, ultimately, with a regime that has swept at least a million Uighur Muslims into prisons and "reeducation" concentration camps. China's national anthem celebrates "millions of hearts with one mind." Hong Kong's protesters are defending a society comfortable with many different minds. And they rightly have turned their anger against so-called "smart lampposts" -- those likely adorned with facial-recognition technologies that serve policies of social control.

Four decades ago, after President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China and as Americans were beginning to travel there in significant numbers, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., tartly observed that too many returning Americans were more voluble about the absence of flies in modernizing China than about the absence of freedom. Now, however, thanks to the ongoing drama in Hong Kong's streets, it is possible to hope that the West has passed "peak China" -- the apogee of blinkered admiration for a nation in which approximately 19% of the human race is saddled with one of the world's most sinister regimes.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

GEORGE WILL COLUMN

(Advance for Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Will clients only)

By GEORGE F. WILL

HONG KONG -- The masked men who recently tossed firebombs at Jimmy Lai's home targeted one of this city's foremost democracy advocates. Lai, a 71-year-old media billionaire, calls this summer's ongoing protest "a martyrdom movement" and "a last-straw movement." It has an intensity and dynamic that bewilders the protesters' opponents in Beijing and in Hong Kong's Beijing-obedient city administration.

Today's mostly young protesters will be middle-aged in 2047, at the expiration of the 50-year agreement that ostensibly accords Hong Kong protected status as an island of freedom. Beijing attempted to whittle away that status with a proposed 2003 law against "subversion." And by devaluing suffrage by the 2014 requirement that candidates for the chief-executive receive approval from a Beijing-loyal committee. And by this year's extradition bill that would have facilitated sweeping Hong Kongers into the maw of China's opaque criminal-justice system.

Monday's New York Times carried a full-page ad paid for by "the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China." Which means, effectively, by the Chinese Communist Party. The ad said: "We are resolutely committed to 'One Country, Two Systems' which provides the constitutional guarantee for Hong Kong's continued development and success as a free and open society." The ad pledged "dialogue to talk through differences and look for common ground with no preconditions."

But the "one county, two systems" formulation, agreed to in 1997, when British authority ended, as a 50-year framework for Hong Kong's relations with the PRC, is an inherently menacing precondition. And Beijing's consistently sinister behavior reveals a determination, as implacable as it is predictable, to incrementally nullify "one nation, two systems" by reducing Hong Kong to just another jurisdiction wholly subservient to China's deepening tyranny.

For Leninists such as Xi Jinping wielding a party-state, (BEG ITAL)nothing(END ITAL) is more important than the party's unchallenged primacy. Another "Tiananmen Square" -- a Hong Kong massacre -- would be calamitous for China's Leninists, but less so than weakening the Communist Party's primacy. The party is, Lai says, "detached from reality" and "will always make the wrong decision" as it tries to become "the most absolute dictatorship in human history."

In 1940, Winston Churchill warned against "a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science." That is China's aspiration with "digital Leninism," an application of science through manipulative technologies that neither Churchill nor his contemporary, George Orwell, anticipated. With a steadily refined repression apparatus, aptly called "cyber-totalitarianism," China's surveillance state is enmeshing everyone in a "social credit" system. Individuals' cumulative commercial and social-media transactions give them a score that determines their access to education, housing, clinics, travel and more, even including pet ownership. Although China's published statistics are as untrustworthy as the regime itself, there are reasons to believe that in this decade China has spent more on "stability maintenance" than on its military. Hong Kong is watching this.

And Hong Kong is reading Ma Jian's dystopian novel "China Dream," which is banned in mainland China but not here. The protagonist is Ma Daode, director of the fictional (so far) China Dream Bureau, which aspires to "replace all private dreams" with one communal dream. Ma Daode hopes to develop "a neural implant," a device whereby "just one click of a button and government directives will be transferred wirelessly into the brains" of the governed. This is not much more Orwellian than China's evolving reality.

In her 1951 "The Origins of Totalitarianism," Hannah Arendt argued that a tyrannical regime, wielding bureaucracy and mass media, could achieve permanence by conscripting the citizenry's consciousness. This echoed Orwell's foreboding: "Imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever." In 1956, Arendt thought her theory had been refuted by a fact -- the Hungarian Revolution, which demonstrated that no state can interrupt "all channels of communication." Hong Kong sees Beijing using new technologies in the service of an evil permanence.

"To see what is in front of one's nose," wrote Orwell, "needs a constant struggle." Belatedly, the world is seeing. The Economist recently editorialized: "The West's 25-year bet on China has failed." The wager was that "market totalitarianism" is an oxymoron. Embedding China in the global economy supposedly would open it to the softening effects of commerce, which would be solvents of authoritarianism. The West's tardy but welcome disenchantment is, as the Economist says, "the starkest reversal in modern geopolitics." If Hong Kong's heroic refusal to go gentle into Beijing's dark night is accelerating this disenchantment, the summer of dissent has been this decade's grandest and most important development.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

GEORGE WILL COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Will clients only)

By GEORGE F. WILL

EDITORS: George F. Will is taking a one-week vacation. His next column will move Tuesday, Sept. 10, for release Thursday, Sept. 12.

WASHINGTON -- Nestled on the Front Range of the Rockies, the city of Crystal was a largely upper-middle-class paradise, chock full of health-conscious and socially conscious -- meaning, of course, impeccably progressive -- Coloradans. Then in slithered a serpent in the form of a proposal for a new school, to be called "Crystal Academy," for "accelerated and exceptional learners." Suddenly it was paradise lost.

This "deliciously repulsive" story (one reviewer's scrumptious description) with "Big Little Lies" overtones (the same reviewer) is told in Bruce Holsinger's compulsively readable new novel "The Gifted School." It is perfect back-to-school reading, especially for parents of students in grades K-12. And it is wonderfully timely, arriving in the aftermath of Operation Varsity Blues -- who knew the FBI could be droll? -- which was the investigation into a very up-to-date crime wave, the scandalous goings-on among some wealthy parents who were determined to leave no ethical norm unbroken in their conniving to get their children into elite colleges and universities.

In Holsinger's book, school officials, speaking educationese, promise that as 100,000 children compete for 1,000 spots -- the dreaded 1% rears its ugly head -- there will be "a visionary, equitable, and inclusive admission process." Four mothers who have been friends forever, but might not be for long, begin becoming rivals in what they regard as a nearly zero-sum game, as they plot to game a process that looks alarmingly fair. Their children are embarked on a forced march to demonstrate that they are "gifted," a word "that slashed like a guillotine through other topics": "Advanced math, Chinese, martial arts, flute lessons with the principal player in the Colorado Symphony: by eighth grade Tessa had become a living, breathing benchmark, a proof of concept for the overinvested parenting they all practiced with varying degrees of obliviousness and guilt."

This is what Holsinger calls "advantage hoarding" and the "delicate ecology of privilege." Everything is hypercompetitive, even among Crystal's 11-year-olds, from History Day at school to the travel soccer teams, which involve "a lot of mileage, a lot of Panera" in an Audi Q7 with a "Feel the Bern" bumper sticker, with "all the Patagonia parents huddled by the pitch, cheering on their spawn in socially appropriate ways."

When one father takes his toddlers to a playground and other parents ask about his children's ages, he subtracts a few months to make them seem developmentally remarkable, for the pleasure of seeing "that flicker of worry in the parents' eyes." And when rival children do not make the cut for the new school, schadenfreude drapes the Rockies like snowdrifts.

Because Crystal Academy is to be a magnet for students whose transcripts are clotted with AP (advanced placement) courses, it is definitionally elitist, and consequently an awkward fit for good (and affluent, and credentialed) progressives who are determined to lie and cheat in order to maximize the already considerable advantages of their family cultures. Students' submissions for a school's science fair become the parents' projects.

Soon, and inevitably, there is a movement against the new school: "We are a group of concerned parents strongly opposed to the creation of the new public magnet school for allegedly gifted students. We believe that gifted education should be democratic, egalitarian, and nonexclusive." Holsinger's "allegedly" is priceless in conjunction with the insistence on gifted education that eschews exclusivity and inequality. It is not easy being an affluent progressive and a scourge of privilege.

The parents in Holsinger's book insist that their corner-cutting, truth-shading, thumbs-on-the-scale maneuverings and brazen lies are, as people usually say, "all for the children." All, that is, except for the large dollop that is for the bragging rights of parents who have hitched their status anxieties to their children.

Now teaching English literature at the University of Virginia, Holsinger previously was at the University of Colorado, and he says Crystal is a "reimagined Boulder." He probably did not have to strain his imagination. He told The Wall Street Journal that you take "over-parented kids, over-invested parents, a cutthroat [college] selection process, and the rest kind of writes itself."

He has deftly written a satire that arrives when it is needed most -- when it is difficult to distinguish from sociology. As America becomes more cognitively stratified, with rewards increasingly flowing to the well-educated (or expensively credentialed, which is (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) the same thing), the recent college admission scandal has become, Holsinger says, "one of the great cultural parables of our time." It is a parable about, in another Holsinger phrase, "privilege-hoarding," as American life uncomfortably imitates his art.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

About
George Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977. He is also a regular contributor to MSNBC and NBC News. "The Conservative Sensibility," his latest book, was released in June 2019. His other works include: “One Man’s America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation” (2008), “Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy” (1992), “Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball” (1989), “The New Season: A Spectator’s Guide to the 1988 Election” (1987) and “Statecraft as Soulcraft” (1983). Will grew up in Champaign, Ill., attended Trinity College and Oxford University, and received a PhD from Princeton University.
Books
  • The Pursuit of Happiness and Other Sobering Thoughts
  • The Pursuit of Virtue and Other Tory Notions
  • The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses 1981-1986
  • Suddenly: The American Idea Abroad and at Home 1986-1990
  • The Leveling Wind: Politics, the Culture, and Other News, 1990-1994
  • The Woven Figure: Conservatism and America's Fabric
  • With a Happy Eye, But ... America and the World, 1997-2002
  • One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation
  • Statecraft as Soulcraft
  • The New Season: A Spectator's Guide to the 1988 Election
  • Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball
  • Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy
  • The Conservative Sensibility
Awards
  • 1977 Pulitzer Prize for commentary
  • 1979 National Magazine Awards: Finalist in the essay and criticism category
  • 1978 National Headliners Award
  • 1980 Silurian Award for editorial writing
  • 1985 The Washington Journalism Review named Will best writer, any subject
  • 1997 Named among the 25 most influential Washington journalists by the National Journal
Links