Skip to comments.The Conscience of a Conservative - The Conservative Sixties
Posted on 04/05/2003 12:57:39 PM PST by tpaine
The Conscience of a Conservative - The Conservative 1960's
From the perspective of the 1990s, it's the big political story of the era by Matthew Dallek
The year 1960, though, brought a turning point for the conservative movement. That year Barry Goldwater published The Conscience of a Conservative. Generally dismissed in the national media, the book stands today as one of the most important political tracts in modern American history.
As the historian Robert Alan Goldberg demonstrates in Barry Goldwater, his fine new biography, The Conscience of a Conservative advanced the conservative cause in several ways. Building on William F. Buckley's pathbreaking work at National Review, Goldwater adeptly reconciled the differences between traditionalists and libertarians. The expansion of the welfare state, he wrote, was an unfortunate and dangerous development that undermined individual freedom. Suggesting that New Deal liberalism marked the first step on the road to totalitarianism, Goldwater argued that government should be removed from most areas of American life. Yet he was no strict libertarian. Appealing to those on the right who longed to recapture lost certitudes, he argued that the state had a duty to maintain order and promote virtue. "Politics," Goldwater wrote, is "the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order."
Goldwater also united disparate conservative factions by focusing their attention on the dangers of Soviet communism. He wrote,
And still the awful truth remains: We can establish the domestic conditions for maximizing freedom, along the lines I have indicated, and yet become slaves. We can do this by losing the Cold War to the Soviet Union.
Goldwater rejected the containment strategies that had guided U.S. foreign policy since the late 1940s, and called for an aggressive strategy of liberation. Conservatives might disagree about the proper role of government in American life, but surely they could unite to defeat the "Soviet menace."
Goldwater also dispelled the notion that conservatives were a privileged elite out to promote its own economic interests. "Conservatism," he wrote, "is not an economic theory." Rather, it "puts material things in their proper place" and sees man as "a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires." According to one right-wing magazine, Goldwater gave conservatives humanitarian reasons for supporting policies usually "associated with a mere lust for gain." But perhaps the greatest achievement of Goldwater's book--and the reason for its startling success with the right--was that it gave conservatives, for the first time, a blueprint for translating their ideas into political action. In his introduction Goldwater rejected the idea that conservatism was "out of date."
The charge is preposterous and we ought boldly to say so. The laws of God, and of nature, have no dateline. The principles on which the Conservative political position is based . . . are derived from the nature of man, and from the truths that God has revealed about His creation. Circumstances do change. So do the problems that are shaped by circumstances. But the principles that govern the solution of the problems do not. To suggest that the Conservative philosophy is out of date is akin to saying that the Golden Rule, or the Ten Commandments or Aristotle's Politics are out of date.
Supporting states' rights, lower taxes, voluntary Social Security, and a strengthened military, Goldwater emphasized the positive in his philosophy and demonstrated "the practical relevance of Conservative principles to the needs of the day."
The Conscience of a Conservative altered the American political landscape, galvanizing the right and turning Goldwater into the most popular conservative in the country. By 1964, just four years after its release, the book had gone through more than twenty printings, and it eventually sold 3.5 million copies. "Was there ever such a politician as this?" one Republican asked in disbelief. The Conscience of a Conservative "was our new testament," Pat Buchanan has said. "It contained the core beliefs of our political faith, it told us why we had failed, what we must do. We read it, memorized it, quoted it. .
. . For those of us wandering in the arid desert of Eisenhower Republicanism, it hit like a rifle shot." The book was especially popular on college campuses. In the early sixties one could find Goldwater badges and clubs at universities across the country. Expressing the sense of rebellion that Goldwater's book helped inspire, one student conservative explained the phenomenon: "You walk around with your Goldwater button, and you feel that thrill of treason."
REPUBLICAN Party leaders, however, ignored the "Goldwater boomlet." Vice President Richard Nixon, the front-runner for the 1960 Republican nomination, believed that the greatest threat to the party came not from the right but from the left. In July, Nixon met with Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York, and agreed to change the party platform to win moderate-Republican support.
Conservatives were outraged, referring to the pact, in Goldwater's words, as the "Munich of the Republican Party."
(Excerpt) Read more at ng.csun.edu ...
The fight was 'won' by the Nixonians, but the battle for our constitution never ends.
Goldwater was another example of a train of thought that went back to the founding of the US:
"I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, the the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer." - Benjamin Franklin, 1766
While it may be true that Goldwater bridged a certain gap that existed in the conservative movement of the mid-1960`s, he ended his life supporting homosexuality, opposing right to life of the unborn child and defending Bill Clinton. Not a legacy that conservatives should be proud of.
Goldwater may have projected conservatism for a short period, but it was Ronald Reagan who actually promoted and advanced conservatism to new levels. Barry Goldwater took the worse beating by a GOP presidential candidate in the 20th century. Reagan produced two landslide political victories in 1980 and 1984. Reagan also gave American's real tax reform, a victory over communism in the Cold War and revitalized the US economy and military armed forces.
OTOH, in all reality, Goldwater didn't do jacks**t for America.
According to Barry Goldwater too.
"Had he lived, he would have been a good president," Goldwater says of his late friend and Senate colleague, the Democrat he had wanted to run against in 1964."
From Barry Goldwater's Left Turn Washington Post July 28, 1994.
To be fair, AU-H2O married a liberal late in life, when he was slipping into senility. She unfairly bent his ear.
Well known conservative columnist Don Feder summed up Goldwater's political career rather well.
Here's Feder's piece.
Goldwater did conservatives more harm than good
BARRY GOLDWATER LOVED HIS COUNTRY. He was gutsy and outspoken. For carrying the conservative standard at a difficult time, he deserves our thanks.
He was also foolhardy, arrogant, envious and, in his latter years, bitter. As the leader of a movement aspiring to govern, he was a dismal failure.
On accepting his party's nomination at the 1964 convention, Goldwater intoned that memorable line: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. ... Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" -- a fine sentiment, had it been put in the proper context. (The Founding Fathers were extremists.) It never was, and served only to reinforce Goldwater's lunatic-fringe cachet.
In his acceptance speech, it would have been so easy to offer an olive branch to his Republican critics, without compromising principles, by stressing points of agreement. Instead, he stopped just shy of cussing them out. ("Those who do not care for our cause, we don't expect to enter our ranks in any case.")
The square-jawed candidate worked very hard to reinforce his media image as a cross between the Durango Kid and Dr. Strangelove. He spoke nonchalantly of nuclear defoliation of the jungles of Vietnam and allowing NATO commanders to use tactical nukes at their discretion.
At a GOP unity conference, Goldwater was asked about his policy toward Germany. Eisenhower, who was in attendance, winced when the senator replied, "I think it was the Germans that (sic) originated the modern concept of peace through strength." Ike latter remarked: "You know, before we had this meeting I thought that Goldwater was just stubborn. Now I am convinced he is just plain dumb."
The Arizonan is credited with turning a clique into a political movement. If not for the troops trained in '64, Ronald Reagan would never have been elected in 1980, we are told. Perhaps. Or, possibly, if the senator had run a less disastrous campaign, it wouldn't have taken another 16 years to put a conservative in the White House.
If Goldwater hadn't dragged 36 House Republicans down to defeat in 1964, much of the Great Society might never have been enacted.
Goldwater's jealousy was most conspicuous in his attitude toward Reagan, whose televised address in his behalf ("A Time to Choose") did more for the Republican ticket than anything Goldwater did himself.
The senator resented the fact that Reagan assumed the mantle of movement leadership within two years of The Speech.
In consequence, he backed Nixon over Reagan in 1968. In 1976, Mr. Conservative supported Gerald Ford and practically accused the Gipper of extremism for opposing the Panama Canal giveaway. Not until Reagan had the nomination sewed up in 1980 did Goldwater grudgingly endorse the greatest conservative president of this century.
Perversity as well as a newfound taste for media adulation led Goldwater to attack social conservatives following his departure from the Senate. After pleading for right-to-life support during his last re-election campaign, he urged abortion rights in the '90s, employing the same incisive reasoning with this issue that he'd applied to nuclear war in the '60s. ("Women have been aborting ever since time began.")
People have been doing all sorts of things since the dawn of time, not all to the advancement of civilization and the benefit of humanity.
He loathed Christian conservatives. "These gentlemen who profess to run a political effort through the church, I think they're doing a disservice to the church and a disservice to politics." Abolitionists ran a highly successful political effort through Northern churches, as the civil-0rights movement did through Southern churches 100 years later.
In 1993, Goldwater became a cheerleader for Clinton's push for gays in the military, commenting (again with bumper-sticker logic) that you don't have to be "straight" to "shoot straight."
Republicans were making too much of a fuss over Whitewater ("no big deal") , the senator said. Those who credit Goldwater with helping to ease Nixon from office forget that he stuck with the felon nearly to the bitter end. Almost to the last, Goldwater thought Watergate was no big deal.
Before nostalgia gets the better of us, it is necessary to see Barry Goldwater as he actually was -- a mediocre mind (he told an interviewer in 1963, "You know, I haven't really got a first-class brain") whose strong suits were integrity and dignity. Long before the end, he lost even those attributes.
Thank you Don Feder.
I would be the first conservative to cut a fellow conservative some slack. But Goldwater never cut anyone any slack. As Feder's piece says, Goldwater was a bitter man to the very end. The basic principle of a right to life for all human beings, trumps the concept of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". When Barry Goldwater began lending his support to Roe v Wade, he ceased to be a "true" conservative.
Here's some more reading material on Goldwater and abortion rights. Link to "Barry Goldwater: Champion of Liberty, But for Whom?"
>>>One last thing should be pointed out as well, I was never of the opinion that Goldwater was "fully" a Conservative in the first place, too much of it seemed Libertarian.
Didn't want to go there, but since you brought it up, I can't say I disagree with you. Libertarians aren't true conservatives.
I suggest we watch out. Possible incoming rounds of blistering rhetorical hogwash.
Not to hammer a dead horse, he was already into his 80s, and how many of us can remain particularly sharp or clear-headed at that age, let alone still remain alive ? I don't think there's any male member of my family who has lived to see 80, perhaps save one.
"Libertarians aren't true conservatives."
There are some basic issues with which we share, but a lot of basic differences. Not to paint them all with a broad brushstroke, many are not the lunatic fringe, but many are. I personally have not had a good time with them in onlineland, and participating with them in political Sims was a very harrowing experience. I served as a Republican Senator in one about the time an influx of Libertarians came in and took control of the caucus. I don't particularly appreciate getting called names like "left-wing statist", etc. when I voted practically the equivalent of a 90% ACU rating. They literally forced me to switch to the 'Rat caucus (and you know it's a bad sign when the 'Rats sound more reasonable, even when filled with hard-left Socialists, then the Libertarians).
The Libertarian philosophy will never amount to anything in American politics. Actually, on social issues, libertarians have much more in common with liberals, then they ever will have in common with traditional conservatives.
Libertarians support the ethical theory that achieving one's own happiness is the proper goal of all human conduct. That is called egotistical hedonism and shows values and beliefs, that lack of a moral compass.
Some people are just not worth the effort responding to. It's best to ignore them.
I believe this was written by Karl Hess. After Goldwater's defeat, the Republicans ostracized Hess.
I wish that would fit into my tagline. I did not know of this book until I saw a referece to it in a Ben Shapiro column. It is out of print at Amazon and bn.com, but available online at Conscience of a Conservative .
It is amazing how much of what was written 40 years ago still applies today. My mother was a Goldwater Girl back about the time I was born. I remember we had a deck of cards with Barry's picture on it.
I wish I had been aware of how important an argument was being made, what was being defended by the conservative movement, what was rescued by Ronald Reagan in the 80s. What we are rescuing now.
This book, apparently ghost written by Brett Bozell, still makes sense because it is premised upon the wisdom expressed in the U. S. Constitution. It is now time to stand up and do our duty to preserve those ideas.