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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8 years ago

I am a minority and became a Liberal by default until I read this book on the recommendation of a good enlightened friend, I can relate to it on so many levels. However every time I listen to Conservatives on TV and radio it just makes me uneasy. So combative and divisive; seemingly only try to reach out to “the base” and never to potential new Conservatives. It seems to me the Republican party will talk itself into extinction. The rhetoric is always off, critical of the current administration but not offering solutions; I would be such an easy pitch to vote for you, and yet every time they open their mouths I am left very nervous…which is too bad.

Xenophobic puppy killer
9 years ago

Jedediah, you’ve summarized the book very well
I read Goldwater’s book as a high school junior in 1965, too late to avoid getting snookered into walking precincts for Johnson. But it nudged me down a path through a few years at Berkeley, where classmates wore PLA caps, waved Mao’s stupid little book, and constantly snaked through my classes, disturbing my afternoon nap. . To say the least, this accelerated my process through being a Reagan Democrat in 1980 and on to being a Reagan Republican by 1984. And it all began when an politically ostacized high school classmate shared with me the Senator’s subversive little book.

Love you on Red Eye, J.B. Never knew conservatism could be so cute.

10 years ago

Goldwater- was a genius true conservatism is about personal responsibility, his book conscience of a conservative is dead on. It’s just a shame we don’t have politician’s like that today.

9 years ago
Reply to  Anthony

I have read opposing views on this seubjct before, and never was quite impressed as I was by the way this article was presented. This is superb presentation and emphatic use of the English language.

10 years ago

I’m English but i love the second amendment, and wish we had our own. But liberals who hate it their position in the words of “Ainsley Hayes” from the West Wing has nothing to do with national security or public safety it’s they don’t like the people who do like Guns, they don’t like the people. I find that very insidious

10 years ago

Monday that First Amendment rights need to be nxeapded and cited the elimination of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms as one solution.Gingrich, a Republican, suggested allowing people to give any amount to any candidate as long as the donation is reported online within 24 hours.”Just as tax lawyers always succeed in out-thinking the (Internal Revenue Service) because they stay after five and the IRS goes home, the private-sector lawyers will always out-think the (Federal Election Commission) because they stay after five and the FEC goes home,” Gingrich told about 400 people at the Nackey Scripps Loeb First Amendment Awards Honors dinner[…]Gingrich also spoke about the need to create different laws for fighting terrorism.Noting the thwarted London terrorist attacks this summer, Gingrich said there should be a Geneva Convention for such actions that makes those people subject to “a totally different set of rules.”—————By “those people” I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mean his political opponents. In fact, the story leads off about how he wants more political free speech!Sounds to me like it was the author of the article you read that was trying to scare you! He’s conflating Newt’s call for “different laws for fighting terrorism” with his call to “expand First Amendment rights.”From your article:”MANCHESTER Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.”This is not-so-subtley disengenious, IMO. It makes it sound as if Newt wants to restrict free speech to fight terrorism, when that’s not what he said according to my article.This is why I don’t trust reporters.

nice post. thanks.

Lisa Richards
12 years ago

This particular book has always been a favorite of mine along with Senator Goldwater’s 1964 Republican Nomination speech.

Goldwater was always right and we Republicans cannot really be Republican if we become moderate–liberal; then we might as well become leftists.

Great column as always Jedidiah

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