Thursday, July 28, 2011

Almost Exactly Two Years Ago, I First Read Barry Goldwater

When I first read Barry Goldwater's, The Conscience of a Conservative I enjoyed it immensely.  I'm reading it again, and enjoying it just as fully.

As stated in the Foreword, the book, written in 1960, is Goldwater's attempt to, "bridge the gap between [conservative] theory and practice."  He explains that conservatism had become something to be disparaged by those who did not hold to its principles, and something for which its adherents felt the need to apologize.  He attributes this to a lack of clear articulation of how conservatism is carried out in practice to the benefit of all in society.   

I love this introduction, because this is the same problem conservatives still have today.  We like to blame media bias, or liberal lies, or any number of other extraneous things when our message does not resonate as strongly as we'd like it to.  But we conservatives need to better learn the message.  We need to become more articulate spokespersons for conservatism.  We need to elect those who are statesmen and women rather than politicians.  (I'm not really sure if my disctinction is valid, but this is how I define the difference between these two types of leaders.  A statesman has an opinion, and is able to promote and defend such an opinion loudly and clearly, regardless of the end result.  A politician tempers his or her speech to effect what he or she considers the optimal political result.)

In The Conscience of a Conservative Goldwater addresses several of the most pressing issues of his day and offered a conservative solution for each: "The Perils of Power"; "States' Rights"; "And Civil Rights"; "Freedom for the Farmer"; "Freedom for Labor"; "Taxes and Spending"; "The Welfare State"; "Some Notes on Education"; and "The Soviet Menace".  The intrinsic problems addressed under many of these topics still plague us today.  Some have grown to even greater threats to our freedom and American way of life than at the time Goldwater's book was written.  Others have evolved to encompass slightly different issues.  And still others, most notably, what Goldwater calls The Soviet Menace, have mostly evaporated, or changed enough so that his concerns (and solutions) are difficult to recognize in the situation we face today.

I have often expressed frustration that during his first presidential campaign, the soon to be President George W. Bush took up the term Compassionate Conservative, as if Conservative itself is not compassionate.  I said at the time I first heard the phrase, and I still say today, that what we need is not leaders who apologize for conservatism, but someone who can explain and defend, loudly and clearly, the intrinsic compassion of the conservative political viewpoint.

Among those of my friends who tend to vote Republican, but who have no interest in being involved in the bigger discussion of political philosophy, the most often heard accusation against conservatism is that it is heartless, or that its adherents only care about money.

Apparently this idea is not new.  Goldwater includes two quotes in his first paragraph of the first chapter of The Conscience of a Conservative that indicate the prominence of similar sentiments already in 1960.  According to Goldwater, when President Richard Nixon was still Vice President Nixon, he had said, "Republican candidates should be economic conservatives, but conservatives with a heart."

And further, during his first term, President Eisenhower said, "I am conservative when it comes to economic problems, but liberal when it comes to human problems."

In a paragraph that is surprisingly similar to pop-political ideas, Goldwater highlights two slightly different views of those opposed to conservatism.  Firstly, that liberals are interested in people, whereas conservatives are interested only in preserving privileged classes.  Or further yet, a second view, that liberals care about little people, while conservatives care only about the, "malefactors of great wealth."

Goldwater, in the rest of the first chapter, claims the moral high ground for Conservatism.  He states as the underlying premise of that high ground, Conservatism's belief that each man has an individual soul, that each person is capable of great and unique good, and that he or she is more than a mere animal.

In light of that belief in each person's individuality, Goldwater turns the accusation of conservatism being only about economics on its head,
...It is Socialism that subordinates all other considerations to man's material well-being.  It is Conservatism that puts material things in their proper place--that has a structured view of the human being and of human society, in which economics plays only a subsidiary role.
Goldwater continues with three points defending the intrinsic morality of conservatism, basing it on the "accumulated wisdom and experience of history," regarding, firstly, the individuality of each person.
Only a philosophy that takes into account the essential differences between men, and, accordingly, makes provision for developing the different potentialities of each man can claim to be in accord with Nature.
Touching on the inter-connectedness of economic freedom and the freedom of the individual spirit,
[Man] can not be economically free,  or even economically efficient, if he is enslaved politically; conversely, man's political freedom is illusory if he is dependent for his economic needs on the State.
Goldwater continues the theme of the individuality of human reality. Because of the uniqueness of each person, government cannot direct well humanity's development.
Every man, for his individual good and for the good of his society, is responsible for his own development.  The choices that govern his life are choices that he must make: they cannot be made by any other human being, or by a collection of human beings.
When addressing the extent to which conservatism embraces freedom, Goldwater explains that tyranny in any form is abhorrent to a conservative.  He uses as an example, the French Revolution, during which tyranny was enacted both against the peasants by the monarchy; and also by the reformers who used the new egalitarianism to reign over and terrorize whomever they chose.  Goldwater sums up the conservatism of his day as being odds with dictators who rule by terror, and equally with those gentler collectivists who ask our permission to play God with the human race.
Goldwater finishes up this first chapter by summarizing conservatism as being in favor of only as much government oversight as will maintain order in society.   He explains that political power is a "self- aggrandizing force; that its appetite grows with eating."  He exhorts "utmost vigilance and care" in keeping political power in its proper place.

The final paragraph in this introductory chapter discusses the many variations among governments on earth of the balance between order and freedom.  He warns that the current battle in America is not about establishing order; but on the contrary, about preserving freedom.  Goldwater suggests we always first answer this question when addressing the various societal issues facing our society,
Are we maximizing freedom?

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