BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

A classic ...

It's hard to be a conservative in the U.S. and not at least have a general awareness of Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative, but this never seriously got on my radar until I read Wayne Allyn Root's The Conscience of a Libertarian, for which this was not only (as one might suspect) an inspiration, but something that Root claims to carry around with him constantly. As W.A.R. and I tend to agree on most things political, I figured I should get a copy.

Now, this is somewhat “vintage” at this point (Root's book was his effort at a 50th anniversary update to Goldwater's original), having come out in 1960, and many things (especially the dollar figures noted) seem laughably quaint today … although the basic philosophical points around conservative principles still ring true. The book is reasonably slim, at about 125 pages, and, as much as I hate to say it, the last chapter, representing 30% of that, is easily skippable (although it is, by 2-3x, the longest chapter in the book), dealing as it does with The Soviet Menace (unless, of course, one edits in “progressive” for “Soviet”, at which point much of it would also ring true … although the odds of progressive forces advancing into Poland do seem pretty low). Frankly, I wish I'd gotten into this either right before or right after reading Pure Goldwater, as it would have been a great addition to the massive amount of material in that collection.

The book is set up thematically, with Goldwater addressing various issues of the day and placing these within a Conservative context. Of course, the world in 1960 was a very different place from the one we see in 2017, both to the bad and the good. A sense that one can get from that other Goldwater book noted above is how ...well, it's probably the wrong word to use in this context, but … “progressive” Goldwater was for a man of his era, free of nearly all the cultural prejudices that one might stereotypically assign. However, he was no fan of the sort of coddling that has become the doctrine of government, media, academia, and the arts, and there are various warnings he has here that accurately predict the sort of “delicate snowflake” society America has devolved into.

I have a half-dozen or so of my little bookmarks in here for what I felt were the “good parts”, and I think I'll mainly let these speak for Sen. Goldwater, rather than making a ham-handed attempt to paraphrase what he's getting at. These two bits are from the initial chapter (sharing a title with the book), which sets up the author's view on what is meant by “conservative” (these are separated by a few paragraphs, but I think flow well together):
We have heard much in our time about “the common man.” It is a concept that pays little attention to the history of a nation that grew great through the initiative and ambition of uncommon men. The Conservative knows that to regard man as part of an undifferentiated mass is to consign him to ultimate slavery.

and …

      With this view of the nature of man, it is understandable that the Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order. The Conservative is the first to understand that the practice of freedom requires the establishment of order: it is impossible for one man to be free if another is able to deny him the exercise of his freedom. But the Conservative also recognizes that the political power on which order is based is a self-aggrandizing force; that its appetite grows with eating. He knows that the utmost vigilance and care are required to keep political power within its proper bounds.
As I mentioned, this is to a large extent a book of political philosophy, generally avoiding the nitty-gritty of specific issues of the day (which would certainly have made this read as quite dated), although a number of bills are discussed, and a few names (most now largely forgotten) bandied about. While I felt the extensive “Soviet” chapter is superfluous to this, there are bits of geopolitical thinking detailed there as well that do fit the tone of the rest, if disjointed from the eventual history.

In the “Perils of Power” chapter, Goldwater takes a hard look at the nature of government and those who would and do govern. This is long-ish, at two paragraphs, but I thought worthwhile to share:
      Throughout history, government has proved to be the chief instrument for thwarting man's liberty. Government represents power in the hands of some men to control and regulate the lives of other men. And power, as Lord Acton said, corrupts men. “Absolute power,” he added, “corrupts absolutely.”
      State power, considered in the abstract, need not restrict freedom: but absolute state power always does. The legitimate functions of government are actually conducive to freedom. Maintaining internal order, keeping foreign foes at bay, administering justice, removing obstacles to the free interchange of goods – the exercise of these powers makes it possible for men to follow their chosen pursuits with maximum freedom. But note that the very instrument by which these desirable ends are achieved can be the instrument for achieving undesirable ends – that government can, instead of extending freedom, restrict freedom. And note, secondly, that the “can” quickly becomes “will” the moment the holders of government power are left to their own devices. This is because of the corrupting influence of power, the natural tendency of men who possess some power to take unto themselves more power – whether in the hands of one or many makes little difference to the freedom of those left on the outside.
One can only imagine what a nightmare the previous Alinsky-inspired administration would have been to Mr. Goldwater … almost a worst case scenario situation (especially with how the outgoing POTUS has been trying to sabotage the transition to Mr. Trump). Of course, by any measure, the cause of “smaller government” has suffered many defeats over the past 2/3rds of a century. Consider that the author was descrying the over-reach of government in 1960, a time when the Federal machinery was tiny compared to the Leviathan that it has become today. One of the topics that was, evidently, still “in play” back when this was written (but has since become anathematized by the big-government Left) is that of “states rights” which is the subject of the chapter from which the following comes from:
      The trouble with this argument {that “if the States fail to do their duty, they have only themselves to blame when the federal government intervenes”} is that it treats the Constitution of the United States as a kind of handbook in political theory, to be heeded or ignored depending on how it fits the plans of contemporary federal officials. The Tenth Amendment is not a “general assumption,” but a prohibitory rule of law. The Tenth Amendment recognizes the States' jurisdiction in certain areas. States' Rights means that the States have a right to act or not to act, as they see fit, in the areas reserved to them. The States may have duties corresponding to these rights, but the duties are owed to the people of the States, not to the federal government. Therefore, the recourse lies not with the federal government, which is not sovereign, but with the people who are, and who have full power to take disciplinary action. If the people are unhappy with {a particular program of their State}, they can bring pressure to bear on their state officials and, if that fails, they can elect a new set of officials. … The Constitution, I repeat, draws a sharp and clear line between federal jurisdiction and state jurisdiction. The federal government's failure to recognize that line has been a crushing blow to the principle of limited government.
This is a banner that Root took up in his book, advocating a return to a rule by the States and a severe lessening of the federal monstrosity. In the chapter on “civil rights” Goldwater expresses views that could have been penned any time in the past few years, when “legislating from the bench” has become a popular work-around for the Left whose agenda was otherwise stymied by popular rejection. The following is somewhat pulled from its context, but I think expresses the author's gut reaction to this sort of deliberate anti-Constitutional maneuvering:
The Constitution is what its authors intended it to be and said it was – not what the Supreme Court says it is. If we condone the practice of substituting our own intentions for those of the Constitution's framers, we reject, in effect, the principle of Constitutional Government: we endorse a rule of men, not of laws. …. I have great respect for the the Supreme Court as an institution, but I cannot believe that I display that respect by submitting abjectly to abuses of power by the Court, and by condoning its unconstitutional trespass into the legislative sphere of government.
Of course, over the intervening half century and more, the Statist forces have not only indulged in endless “unconstitutional trespass” but have solidified and institutionalized many of these transgressions so that those with no grasp of history (i.e. those educated by the government – how convenient) would assume that these “entitlements”, programs, and even governmental departments were how things “were supposed to be” and not perversions of the intent of the framers. In Goldwater's chapter on “the welfare state” he starts out with a look at how Marxism had failed in its frontal assault in the west, and was evolving a less direct approach (à la the Cloward-Piven Strategy) to achieve the same goals. I wonder if Goldwater knew of the likes of Saul Alinsky and the Frankfurt School, because this paragraph pretty much sums up that whole scheme:
      The current favored instrument of collectivization is the Welfare State. The collectivists have not abandoned their ultimate goal – to subordinate the individual to the State – but their strategy has changed. They have learned that Socialism can be achieved through Welfarism quite as well as through Nationalization. They understand that private property can be confiscated as effectively by taxation as by expropriating it. They understand that the individual can be put at the mercy of the State – not only by making the State his employer – but by divesting him of the means to provide for his personal needs and by giving the State the responsibility of caring for those needs from cradle to grave. Moreover, they have discovered – and here is the critical point – that Welfarism is much more compatible with the political processes of a democratic society. Nationalization ran into popular opposition, but the collectivists feel sure the Welfare State can be erected by the simple expedient of buying votes with promises of “free” federal benefits – “free” housing, “free” school aid, “free” hospitalization, “free” retirement pay and so on … The correctness of this estimate can be seen from the portion of the federal budget that is now allocated to welfare, an amount second only to the cost of national defense.
Of course, the Left loves “buying votes” (with “other people's money”), and the decades of this can be seen in the destruction of once-thriving communities that have succumbed to the social engineering of program after program after program that had no purpose other than institutionalizing Statist political control. Again, I think Goldwater would be horrified with how this played out over the years … and it will probably take a substantial re-visioning of how the government works (such as what Root proposes in his Libertarian book) to “stop the insanity”. The last little booknote I have in here is in the chapter on “education”, and, while the author goes into the unconstitutional incursion of the federal government into the control and direction of education (which, needless to say, was minuscule in his day compared to the current situation), what caught my eye here was his look at taxation. Mind you, this is written by a prominent long-time Senator, who has a very clear view of how this works. This is about as damning as you can get while still addressing the specifics:
      The truth, of course, is that the federal government has no funds except those it extracts from the taxpayers who reside in the various States. The money that the federal government pays to State X for education has been taken from the citizens of State X in federal taxes and comes back to them, minus the Washington brokerage fee. The less wealthy States, to be sure, receive slightly more than they give, just as the more wealthy States receive somewhat less. But the differences are negligible. For the most part, federal aid simply substitutes the tax-collecting facilities of the federal government for those of the local governments. This fact cannot be stressed often enough; for stripped of the idea that federal money is free money, federal aid to education is exposed as an act of naked compulsion – a decision by the federal government to force the people of the States to spend more money than they choose to spend for this purpose voluntarily.
Yes, that's part of the reason that Barry Goldwater is such a saint to the Libertarian movement … here's a man who is at the upper reaches of the government who is not afraid to accuse that government of unconstitutional “force” and “naked compulsion”!

Needless to say, I was quite impressed with The Conscience of a Conservative (with the caveats noted), and would recommend it to all and sundry … despite realizing that the Left/Liberal/Socialist/Statist (and whatever associated less-complimentary appellations might come to mind) folks out there will no doubt hate the message here. I'd actually recommend reading Pure Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative, and The Conscience of a Libertarian in that order, as the first of those will give you a solid background on Goldwater and this thought, this will walk you through his philosophy of Conservatism, and Root's book will update the spirit of this for the current century.

Picking up a copy of this should be no challenge, as it appears to be still in print in a couple of editions, including this paperback, which will set you back less than six bucks (and it's available in a Kindle edition for under a buck), so you might even want to go irritate the snowflakes at your local brick-and-mortar book vendor, and order it through them!

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Tags: book review
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