The Conscience of A Conservative, Chapter 1

From the diaries by Erick.

Apparently, there really is nothing new under the sun. 

Reading this book, “Conscience of A Conservative,” which was published in 1960 is like reading something published in 2009.  The problems in the political arena are the same. The only difference is that we seem to be further behind in learning some crucial lessons. 

George W. Bush wasn’t the first political leader to embarrassingly try to put a new, shiny face on Conservatism when he called for “Compassionate Conservatism.”  In Chapter One of the book, Senator Goldwater cited similar chastisements from Nixon and Eisenhower.  Goldwater wrote:

“These formulations are tantamount to an admission that Conservatives is a narrow, mechanistic economic theory that may work very well as a bookkeeper’s guide, but cannot be relied upon as a comprehensive political philosophy.”

Back in Goldwater’s time, the Liberals were claiming that they were the ones focused on people.  The Conservatives were only concerned about the “preservation of economic privilege.”  So, apparently this Republican branding issue is not new. 

This is where Goldwater then begins to build the argument for the differences between Liberals and Conservatives and it is a fascinating one:

“The root difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals of today is that Conservatives take account of the whole man, while the Liberals tend to look only at the material side of man’s nature.  The Conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires.  What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man’s nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants.  Conservatism therefore looks upon the enhancement of man’s spiritual nature as the primary concern of political philosophy. Liberals, on the other hand, – in the name of “concern for “human beings” — regard the satisfaction of economic wants as the dominant mission of society.

Wow.  Insert howls of opposition from the Liberals. 

The ability to understand all of this is tied back to one’s view of the nature of man, Goldwater believed.  Indeed, Goldwater says it is the “first obligation of a political thinker to understand the nature of man.” And what is this nature of man?  Goldwater reviews what we know about man:

1. “The Conservative knows that to regard man as part of an undifferentiated mass is to consign him to ultimate slavery.”

Each member of the species is a unique creature with a soul.  When you think of people only as a member of the group, you dehumanize their abilities, dreams and desires.  Group assignment becomes a necessary step towards achieving the greater good over the triumph of the individual. 

2. “…the economic and spiritual aspects of man’s nature an inextricably intertwined.  He cannot 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.”

Re-read that.  When we rely on the state for our economic needs, our political freedom is only an illusion.  The more I read from this book, the more I realize the universal truth imparted in it.  We like to think that we are living in unique times and, in some ways, I’m sure we are.  However, it is enlightening to see that these are the same overarching issues that he was addressing fifty years ago!  Apparently, each generation has to re-learn the lessons.

3. “…man’s development, in both its spiritual and material aspects, is not something that can be directed by outside forces.  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 collectivity of human beings.”

That statement harkens back to the Lincoln quotation that Erick used a few weeks ago, “This cause is that every man can make himself.”  In the echo chamber in which we now live that quotation seems to reverberate.

Finally, Goldwater goes on to entitle the book and summarize its message:

“The Conscience of the Conservative is pricked by anyone who would debase the dignity of the individual human being.  Today, therefore, he is at odds with dictators who rule by terror, and equally with those gentler collectivists who ask our permission to play God with the human race.”

In that statement, we see the reasons for the outrage that is manifesting itself throughout our society.  This government is debasing the dignity of the individual by expanding the horrors of abortion and embryonic stem cell research, legislating the “Robin Hood Principle,” and turning their backs on efforts to expand freedom.  By doing this, they are stifling the individual’s desire for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

What is it that Conservatives want from their government?  The answer is simple, according to Goldwater:

“…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.”

But, given the times in which we live, one has to wonder: what is the minimum amount of freedom for an individual that is consistent with the maintenance of social order?