The Corner

Will on Gerson

George Will does not seem convinced by Michael Gerson’s call for “heroic conservatism.”

Gerson’s call for “idealism” is not an informative exhortation: Huey Long and Calvin Coolidge both had ideals. Gerson’s “heroic conservatism” is, however, a variant of what has been called “national greatness conservatism.” The very name suggests that America will be great if it undertakes this or that great exertion abroad. This grates on conservatives who think America is great, not least because it rarely and usually reluctantly conscripts people into vast collective undertakings.

Given that “national greatness” types appeal to the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt so often, I particularly like Will’s closing graf.

It is a pity that TR built the Panama Canal. If he had not, “national greatness” and “heroic” conservatives could invest their overflowing energies and vaulting ambitions into building it, and other conservatives — call them mere realists — could continue seeking limited government, grounded in cognizance of government’s limited competences. That is an idealism consonant with the nation’s actual greatness.

 Heh.

Jonathan H. Adler — Jonathan H. Adler teaches courses in environmental, administrative, and constitutional law at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

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