Revisiting Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative: A Message to Our Youth

Jedediah Bila

By Jedediah Bila

We’ve heard a lot of talk about how the Republican Party needs to get back to its conservative roots. Amen to that. However, many young Americans are often left wondering What does that actually mean? I’ve been asked that question a number of times by young Manhattanites who are intrigued by the “foreign” ideology of conservatism. Can you blame them for not knowing much about it? Conservatism isn’t exactly flourishing on the streets of New York City. And let’s face it: So many Republicans haven’t done a good job of articulating and manifesting conservative principles.

So, it’s time to revisit Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative (1960). Below you will find a series of quotations I believe exemplify some of the core tenets of conservatism, each followed by my brief commentary. All page references align with this edition of the text.

–“If the Conservative is less anxious than his Liberal brethren to increase Social Security ‘benefits,’ it is because he is more anxious than his Liberal brethren that people be free throughout their lives to spend their earnings when and as they see fit” (7). Protecting your liberty is at the heart of the conservative movement. Somehow, the notion of wanting you to control your hard-earned cash has been portrayed by the Left as a bad thing. The liberal alternative proposes that the government must do what you could never manage to do for yourself. Conservatives see things differently. We think you’re smart enough to decide what’s best for you. And if you screw up, a little thing known as consequence will get you back on the right path faster than any handout ever would.

–“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” (23). If everything that grounds us as a nation is subject to a new and different interpretation every time societal trends take a turn, what will we stand for? The answer is nothing. I know it may sound cool to approach old founding documents with a “living and breathing” perspective, but the Constitution isn’t meant to be hip. It’s also not meant to complement the Left’s moral relativism by calling everything and anything our country represents into question, based on human opinion and the popularity of cultural trends. Times do change. That’s what the amendment process is for.

–“If it is wrong for a single corporation to dictate prices throughout an entire industry, it is also wrong for a single union—or, as is the actual case, a small number of union leaders—to dictate wages and terms of employment throughout an entire industry” (37). Welcome to the absurdity of the public education system, where the amount of time you’ve held your job as a teacher is prioritized over the quality of your instruction. A true conservative will always support merit pay, rewarding good teaching, and inflicting consequences on poor performance. Can you imagine if the private sector operated like the public school system, with automatic, uniform pay increases regardless of personal productivity? Conservatives don’t want to see the good, the bad, the ambitious, and the lazy all grouped together for the sake of uniformity. Let the stars shine and make their way to the top.

–“We are all equal in the eyes of God but we are equal in no other respect. Artificial devices for enforcing equality among unequal men must be rejected . . . ” (41-42). Conservatives don’t advocate wealth redistribution under the guise of creating a utopia. Why? It disregards our individuality and the fact that we all possess unique abilities, skills, and ambitions. Some of us may strive to work fourteen-hour days in an effort to become millionaires. Others may choose a more relaxed lifestyle, opting for a part-time job, and are content with less financial gain. A true conservative knows that an obsession with equalizing violates our individuality. Not to mention the fact that no-one but you is entitled to the rewards your hard work produces. So, we encourage you to choose the life you want for yourself and to work as hard as you’d like to. We’re not worried about bringing your income down in order to bring someone else’s up, or vice versa. We believe in your potential. If you decide you need more money, we’re confident in your ability to get it without mommy government’s help.

–“We may not make foreign peoples love us—no nation has ever succeeded in that—but we can make them respect us. And respect is the stuff of which enduring friendships and firm alliances are made” (81). Conservatives don’t advocate bowing to world leaders, kowtowing to dictators, or embracing the naïve vision that the power of your kind words and a decrease in your military arsenals will somehow inspire rogue nations to be your best buds. We know that the stronger we are, the more able we are to stand up to those who threaten freedom throughout the world. We’re not afraid for America to wear her strength on her sleeve.

–“ . . . that if we take from a man the personal responsibility for caring for his material needs, we take from him also the will and the opportunity to be free” (50). Conservatives embrace personal responsibility, knowing full well that the prosperity of our society is linked to the ability of individuals to make decisions for their futures, be accountable for those decisions, and pay the consequences for bad behavior. The Left loves to portray government as an eternal caretaker that will pick you up when you fall and bail you out when you make bad choices. The goal? A society dependent on the state. The problem? We’re Americans. And for so many of us, it’s just not in our DNA.

I could easily cite twenty more. Conservatism isn’t the out-of-touch ideology the Left would like you to think it is. It’s very much in touch with some of the things our youth value so much. Like the freedom to express themselves. Like dreaming big dreams and knowing that you live in the best place in the world to make them come true. Like being responsible for your own body and your own money. Like the choice to decide what school you want to go to, regardless of where you live or how much money you have. Like knowing that if you work your tail off at a job and are darn good at it, you’ll be rewarded more than someone who couldn’t care less.

The stuffy, out-of-date conservatism our youth has been told so much about has never existed. I hope they will take the time to discover that conservatism has always been a movement that seeks to preserve their freedom and to allow them to make their lives into anything they’d like them to be.

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