So George Will doesn’t like Downton Abbey. I have to say I found DA boring after a few episodes, and quickly lost interest. But Will, who, as a baseball fan, has a high tolerance for slow speed stories, finds DA to be a simile for our Progressive/Administrative State:
It is fitting that PBS offers “Downton Abbey” to its disproportionately progressive audience. This series is a languid appreciation of a class structure supposedly tempered by the paternalism of the privileged. And if progressivism prevails, the United States will be Downton Abbey: Upstairs, the administrators of the regulatory state will, with a feudal sense of noblesse oblige, assume responsibility for the lower orders downstairs, gently protecting them from “substandard” health-insurance policies, school choice, gun ownership, large sodas and other decisions that experts consider naughty or calamitous.
What’s interesting about this is not whether Will’s analysis here is overwrought, but rather that it shows the change in Will’s general outlook from the earlier phases of his writing career, where here showed a more Burkean or traditional conservative disposition, and an implicit (sometimes explicit) disdain for libertarian impulses. Exhibit One: Statecraft as Soulcraft, a book I once heard Will himself disavow. Back in the 1980s, my guess is Will would have celebrated Downton—as many conservatives do today—as an exemplar of social values that have been lost to the relentless tides of modernity and egalitarianism. (Think of Brideshead Revisited, to which Downton is comparable, though markedly inferior, in several ways.) Now Will is much more Hayekian, much more attuned to the immense dangers of our administrative state, more fundamentally and categorically skeptical of government power. (Significant, by the way, that Will uses the phrase—the Administrative State—that the Claremont Institute was among the first to promote, starting more than 25 years ago.)
If you have a spare hour, it is worth taking in his interview with ReasonTV where he explains the evolution of his views in a more libertarian direction: