Paperback originally published: 1960
127 pages
Chapter 18


Barry Goldwater
Although it expresses his thoughts and philosophy and its premises guided his actions The Conscience of a Conservative was not directly written by Barry Goldwater. It was ghostwritten in 1959 by L. Brent Bozell, a prominent conservative thinker and Stephen Shadagg, Goldwater’s Senate campaign manager who had ghostwritten most of Goldwater’s syndicated newspaper columns.  This effort was undertaken at the behest of Goldwater’s strong supporters inside the conservative movement.  Bozell and Shadagg used Goldwater’s columns as the basis for their effort; their intimate knowledge of the state of conservative thinking helped form the disjointed and diverse articles into a comprehensive discourse. When the book was ultimately published its fidelity to Goldwater's beliefs was patent.
     At the time Goldwater was a second-term senator from Arizona who didn't think he was right for a presidential run. He was not well educated and although he had been raised Episcopalian he feared that his notably Jewish name would cause too many problems outside Arizona. He eventually allowed an unsuccessful draft-Goldwater presidential movement to proceed in 1960 despite the fact that he didn't really believe he could-or perhaps even should-be president. All that would change within three years.
     By 1963 one hundred thousand hardback and four hundred thousand paperback copies of The Conscience of a Conservative had been sold. It was a watershed event in American political history because the book did something that hadn't been done as starkly before: it made flat statements, demanded specific action, and offered (in what would


become the title of a later biography about Goldwater) a choice-not an echo. The reason Goldwater was able to do this and chose to do so lay in the fact that he did not aspire to the presidency; he sought truth and sense in politics and hence he was plainspoken and demanding. He was a person who wanted to do something, not just be someone. If what he said squashed his chances for the presidency-so be it.
     The book, a manifesto more than simply a treatise, was whittled down from its rough draft of two hundred pages to just 127 by the time of publication. Goldwater's spare words and straightforward positions philosophically embrace alternatives to all that conservatives found wrong with Republican President Dwight Eisenhower's leadership in the 1950s, and more to the point, the socialistic foundations of the modern Democrat party crafted during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. It also presciently addresses what they would find even more wrong with President Kennedy's policies. It was Kennedy's indecisiveness in the Bay of Pigs fiasco that finally motivated Goldwater to take action. (The Bay of Pigs operation, which the U.S. supported logistically, was a failed invasion of Cuba in 1961 by Cubans domiciled in Florida. This incident occurred shortly after Fidel Castro succeeded in a military takeover of Cuba, also with U.S. support, following which he instituted a Soviet-style communist government.)
     Goldwater saw a lack of courage in the mood of the American governing elite as his rallying point. There were historical forces at work, forces that Goldwater felt were undermining American character and independence. These were found in the drift toward an over-regulated, over-taxed
economy and a demeaning welfare state that were unacceptable to him.
     There were also national defense issues that Goldwater wanted to bring to the public discussion. He was not afraid to use them as props and further proof of the need for resolution in calling out the real danger: communism. Although that danger was authentic there were complicating factors in the mix of rhetoric. The Soviets had launched the first successful earth satellite, had put the first human in space, and allegedly held a wide edge in missile technology. This latter fact, which was a significant political issue in the five-year period between 1957 and 1961, was actually not true. President Eisenhower knew the political claim by the Democrats that we were falling behind the Soviets was false because he had in his quiver all the information from the U2 spy planes that were over-flying the Soviet Union on a regular basis. The Russians were anything but ready to claim technological superi-


ority in rocketry regardless of their space successes. But Ike wouldn't release that information to Congressional Democrats (or Republicans) for fear of having the spy program compromised (a not unreasonable concern). To Ike the over-flights were more valuable than any political capital he was losing by not revealing them. When a U2 spy plane was shot down over Russia in 1960 and the intelligence gained through that program was revealed to Congress a lot of the political bluster was diminished by the news.
     Based on the information available up until 1960 there was widespread discontent with Eisenhower; one of his critics was Goldwater. During the 1964 presidential campaign Goldwater's fearless and confrontational statements regarding the communist threat, founded in the missile gap allegations (which by then were somewhat exaggerated) and Soviet expansionism in the Third World, would cost him dearly. It was during this time when the country faced nuclear devastation at the hands of the Soviet Union that no one knew specifically what to do. These issues were the "third-rail" of national politics that Goldwater faced head-on. However, the same utterances twenty-five years later by Ronald Reagan from his bully pulpit in the White House caused dramatic changes in the world. By then Goldwater looked more perceptive than pretentious or paranoid. But this was not so in the beginning.
     Goldwater's book was designed to make a conservative statement that would capture the country's attention. It outlines positions that he had often presented in small venues. He found his message appealed equally strongly to a wider audience when he came to the national stage. His western independence was an asset in getting his views across, even if his cowboy appearance, born of his Arizona roots, was not.
     The book's key premise is that man is as much a spiritual being as a biological one. Goldwater appeals to the human spirit by stating that the material prosperity of our population is not the sole measure of life and should not be the first aim of our government. He avers that we must be able to care for ourselves personally to maintain both our dignity and our humanity. Goldwater and his fellow conservatives understood that legislators and bureaucrats were impeding progress on individual and societal levels by restricting or obstructing the opportunities for self-reliance and self-betterment. The aim of conservatives was to dismantle inappropriate government intervention in society but not government itself, a distinction that had not yet seen


enough light in the early 1960s, especially in the liberal press, to be understood fully.
     Anarchy was not the conservative goal. The movement sought to provide maximum individual liberty within a framework of order designed to ensure that one person's actions did not impinge on another's freedom. In other words, conservatives proposed a field of play upon which the
government should act as referee to ensure individual liberty might flower but would not otherwise intervene in the outcome. Most importantly, Goldwater felt that politics had come to neglect principles while trying to care for individuals. He wanted the country to heed the warning of John Adams, that the greatest menace to society is the political individual who knows better than the people what is best for them. Such a person doesn't just offer, "Let me do that for you"-he insists on taking the reins; "get out of the way" is his demand. Goldwater contends that our government had fallen to that level.
     Goldwater's second front, echoed so successfully by conservatives in the last quarter of the twentieth century, is that property and freedom are inextricably intertwined. He forcefully makes this point in his discussion of the government's power to tax. Although he recognizes the strong emotional appeal of welfarism, he sees its dangers equally clearly. He outlines his goals in brief form:

               I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more
               efficient for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote
               welfare for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws,
               but to repeal them.

     No matter the clarity and simplicity of Goldwater's words, it would still be thirty-five years before big government's give-away welfare antics would begin to be brought to heel. This change did not come about because liberal politicians saw their public charity was not working, not altering people's lives for the better. Change came because the American people eventually were bold enough to vocalize the bright side of an ancient proverb: give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. When incentive was introduced into the welfare system positive news became routine. There was one area, however, where welfarism did achieve the purposes for which it was intended-those espousing the free lunch of then current programs were re-elected repeatedly based on their "good works."
     Interestingly, criticism of the unwritten but manipulative alli-


ance between the liberal press and liberal politicians-founded as much in politics, emotion, and pseudo-guilt as sensible and effective policy-was not used by conservative activists who sought to change the rationale of government. Instead of exposing the lofty language and equalitarian image for what it was-an empty promise supported by feel-good but vacuous idealism-they primarily approached the disconnection between good government and bad politics by the direct and simple use of facts-of which many examples appear in Goldwater's commentary.
     After the 1964 Goldwater defeat, Daniel Patrick Moynihan unintentionally but honestly helped in the efforts of conservative realists; he was unafraid to face the facts that were coming to the fore. Moynihan, a contemporary of Goldwater, and in 1985 a well-known and popular liberal Democrat with both a conscience and a concern, voiced the opinion that the only party with ideas since mid-century was the Republican Party and that those ideas had allowed the Republicans to gain control of the levers of government via the ballot box. Moynihan was then a U.S. Senator from New York. He had watched as first Goldwater and then Ronald Reagan had risen to the top of the American political scene almost solely by the force of their ideas. He warned his fellow liberals of what they were seeing and virtually demanded they pay attention.
     Back in 1965, when Moynihan was a member of Lyndon Johnson's administration, he had authored an assessment of what was happening in the black community-partially as a result of federal welfare policies-and had published a study titled The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. In this document he outlines the negative consequences of then-existing government paradigms and calls for alterations of public initiatives in order to save black family structure. His report was either ignored in liberal policy discussions, or disbelieved-and matters got worse as he predicted. However, it was Goldwater who had offered many of Moynihan's ideas well before Moynihan expressed his comprehension and his anxiety-or committed his thesis to paper. Goldwater found in common sense what Moynihan documented in common statistics.
     The tactics used by the media to deride conservative positions regarding the importance of family and morality as alarmist, or even racist, ultimately backfired as Goldwater's views were later validated by liberals like Moynihan. During the last quarter of the twentieth century the political and social truth about bankrupt welfare policies


could no longer be ignored. Not only did the U.S. Government's fish distribution system feed a man today but it ensured to his ultimate detriment that he would be back tomorrow for another free meal. As a result of these realities conservatism became first intriguing, then accepted, and finally politically dominant.
     Making someone a slave to the state was anathema to Goldwater. With uncompromising passion, he loathed the destructive culture of dependency created via welfarism and its paymaster: uncontrolled taxation. (When Goldwater first ran for president the top personal income tax rate was 91%. As of 2012, it is 35%). Without his willingness to stand at center stage and bear the brunt of liberal castigations the course of U.S. history and the beginnings of change in both domestic and foreign policy might have been much, much longer in coming. And that also meant that the presidency of Ronald Reagan, or his like, would have been postponed or even eliminated with concomitant consequences for the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the reform of state welfarism.
     Goldwater's views on foreign entanglements as well as his appreciation of the danger of submitting to fear made him seem warlike in the liberal press, but The Conscience of a Conservative crushed this aspersion and made it look small. The book dispels any suggestion of demagoguery and stands comfortably on principle. His media critics didn't present him that way because he made too much sense-his rationality scared them for the political success it portended. Rather, he was made to look combative, pugnacious; but what really frightened liberals were his logic and his passion. Their lack of cogent and effective counter-argument was what froze them in their tracks-they didn't know what to do with this truth-teller, and so, rather than discuss his positions on the merits they attacked him as a political and social monster.
     Goldwater ultimately came to be regarded as an icon not because he meant to be but because his principles made him such. The Conscience of a Conservative is a plain book, stating unclouded truths. Although Lyndon Johnson handily won the 1964 presidential election it was clear over the course of the rest of the century that it was Goldwater's vision that was ultimately victorious. His ideas and his book have not lost any value because of their simplicity but rather have gained stature because of their merit. Re-reading about this crusade now that many of its goals have come to pass is both fortifying and edifying-and it makes much of the passion expressed throughout First Principles easier


to grasp. Understanding both Goldwater and what the liberals of his time attempted to do to him is an important part of comprehending the progress and eventual success of
the conservative movement; the liberal tactics of Goldwater's era arise again and again as political battles ever repeat themselves. In this case, being forewarned through Goldwater's comprehensions and actions is an important step in being forearmed.

About the Author
Barry Morris Goldwater was born in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 1, 1909. After graduating from the University of Arizona he worked in the family department store, which he ran after his father's death in 1929. He served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and rose to the rank of brigadier general. Goldwater was elected to the Senate from Arizona in 1952. A resolute conservative, he became a spokesman for right-wing Republicans in their campaign against massive federal government, advocating the alternative of greater state and local powers. He vigorously opposed federal welfare appropriations as socialistic and sought to curb public ownership of utilities. A strong anticommunist, Goldwater supported the American military intervention in Vietnam and criticized efforts to achieve détente with the U.S.S.R. He was decisively defeated by Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election, largely because of the electorate's apprehension over his allegedly extreme position on the use of nuclear weapons. Goldwater was re-elected to the Senate in 1967 and served there until his retirement in 1987. He was credited with generating the conservative resurgence that resulted in Ronald Reagan's presidency, but he grew increasingly concerned and then critical of the influence of the religious right's social conservatism within the Republican Party. Senator Goldwater died May 29, 1998.

Original paperback published by:
Hillman Books
New York, NY
Available as a used book at

Reprint available through:
Princeton University Press
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544


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