Although we have met only several times in our lives, and then only briefly, I have followed the career of George F. Will with at least intermittent interest. We are almost the same age (I’m a few months older), and in his early years, Will showed the kind of knowledge of historical and philosophical themes that I encounter quite rarely in modern journalists. He could also be extremely articulate on TV news discussions, and the fact that he occasionally took hard lines against government social programs made him seem, given his obnoxious company, relatively congenial. The problem was that as a token “conservative” in the national media, before David Brooks, Richard Brookhiser and other neoconservatives joined him in that role, Will was always expected to mind his manners and to avoid seeming overly reactionary. Over the years Will has gone out of his way to show that he belongs to the club, and he has done this by saying and writing things that have made my skin crawl.
In 1992 in a commentary in Newsweek, for example, he beat up on Republican primary candidate Buchanan for having spoken about the 1950s with obvious nostalgia. Will scolded Pat for not recognizing how much “more just America is now because of the civil rights movement than it had been before.” Two years ago Will was again playing to the establishment crowd, in a response to the New York Times Sunday Book Review Section, which had linked him (and me) to the antiwar Old Right. In his rejoinder, he explained that he could not be a member of the Old Right because he favored “lots and lots of immigration.” Presumably the Old Right was made up of nativist morons who did not.
This week in a Washington Post syndicated column, “War WAS The Answer,” Will had returned to his PC mode. Despite the carnage wrought at Normandy, he tells us, “War was the answer to what ailed Europe in 1944.” In 1944, he explains, there were only “four perilously free countries in Europe: Britain, Switzerland, Sweden and Ireland.” “Twenty years later, almost all of Western Europe was free. Twenty years after that, Spain, Portugal and Greece had joined the free democracies. Today for the first time in 2,500 years most Europeans live under such governments.” Like most such generalizations, whether supplied by Freedom House, the Wall Street Journal or the rhapsodic prose of Francis Fukuyama, Will’s rhetoric about historical trends seems laced with lithium. How was Europe 2,500 years ago living in “free democracies” of the kind that now exists? Is Will referring to the Greek polis, which was a geographically and ethnically restricted experience, and one that bears no resemblance to what is now called “democracy”? Less than 10% of Athens’s residents were citizens, a body limited to ancestral Athenians, and the slave population, as John C. Calhoun once correctly observed, vastly outnumbered the politai and provided the material base for Geek self-government. As for women’s rights and the rights of immigrants, both legal and illegal, to cultural self-assertion, two pillars of today’s “free democracies,” such defining features of our updated democracy certainly did not exist back then.
One also gets the impression that the justification for the struggle against Nazi Germany was to produce democracies such as today’s Spain. Presumably Spain and Portugal could not have emerged out of the black night of conservative authoritarian government or Greece out of the postwar horror of a constitutional monarchy to become what they are now, yuppie, multicultural social democracies, if we had not beaten down Hitler’s armies. Although I had not previously imagined any reason to deplore the fall of the Third Reich, Will may well have provided such a reason. Hitler was endangering the world by preventing such illustrious democracies as the current regime of Spain from emerging.
Here too historical inaccuracies rage. There is no reason to assume that Spain today, despite its proliferating drug and porno trade, is “freer” than it was in the last ten or even twenty years of the Franco regime. The Caudillo’s government in the fifties and sixties was a relaxed kind of authoritarian regime, a fact that such authors as Brian Crozier and Stanley Payne and millions of foreign tourists have pointed out. In today’s Spain under its Socialist president of the council, Luis Zapatero the government has criminalized “hate speech” against minorities, which is a common practice in the current version of “free democracy.” The present Spanish leftist-multicultural government naturally applies the customary double standard in treating real Muslim incitement to violence more indulgently than it does published warnings against its immigration policy. (Those who produce the latter may find themselves thrown into jail for insensitivity.) This regime also invests public funds to subsidize the Left’s interpretation of the Spanish Civil War and to make sure that in public schools the communists receive adoration as the heroes in the struggle against the “fascist” nationalists.
But I doubt that Will’s momentary love of such PC, Islamicist-invaded, and socially disintegrating countries as “free democratic” Spain and Sweden will keep him from switching gears again. How much do you want to bet that the next time our European cousins come out for the Palestinians or get blown up by their happily received Islamicist residents, Will and his friends will bewail the breakdown of European society and the cowardice of European governments? I wish that Will and his fellow-neocons could make up their minds about Europe. Either they are praising its unprecedented democracy or telling us what a disgusting place it has become. There should be a single party-line, lest movement conservatives fall into confusion about what they should say about democratic progress in Europe.