George Will is now 80 years old. Yet he appears to have entirely withstood the silent artillery of time. Outwardly, the contemporary Will is indistinguishable from the Will who delivered Harvard University’s Godkin Lectures in 1981. His hair has retained its fullness, he still dresses for every occasion in neatly cut suits and traditionally patterned ties, and his taste for fashionable eyewear endures. His command of language is as enviable today as it was when he began his syndicated column in 1974, while his erudition has only deepened.
Will’s political outlook, however, has altered throughout his life. At the time of the Godkin Lectures, his work was strongly influenced by British Toryism, and he regarded the American Founding with suspicion. Today, he is a self-professed classical liberal who believes conservatism is incoherent without the Founding at its root. In the late 1960s, he held similar views as a supporter of Barry Goldwater. Before that, he was a committed Democrat with progressive tendencies.
Recently, Will indulged me with a Zoom interview, in which we explored his intellectual development in greater depth. Avuncular in casual conversation, Will takes little pleasure in discussing himself at length. Indeed, perhaps his greatest asset as a columnist is his appreciation for the sheer variety of subjects in existence that are deserving of exploration. The breadth of Will’s journalistic oeuvre illustrates that life is infinitely richer than any individual, whatever his status in Washington.
Will was born to an academic family in Champaign, Illinois in 1941, and he grew up in a community of faculty children. His father, Frederick, and mother, Louise—a professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois and high school teacher, respectively—inspired him to cultivate intellectual interests. By the time of his enrollment at Urbana’s University High School, he had already been intrigued by politics. Devouring liberal publications played a significant role in shaping his early thought.