Monday, November 7, 2011

Mommy, Where Do Republicans Come From?: A Review of Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative

Title: The Conscience of a Conservative
Author: Barry Goldwater
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Manor Books (1974)
Pages: 127
Challenges: 2011 GoodReads Reading Challenge
How I Came by This Book: As part of the research I'm doing for my book, I've been trying to find and read books by Conservative authors. Picking this book up was a no-brainer considering that many of the policies that Conservatives and Libertarians argue in favor of to this day come directly from or are derived from Goldwater's treatise. I borrowed this book from my library.

About the Author: Barry Goldwater was a prominent Conservative theorist who helped to shape the Republican party. He was an Arizona State Senator for five terms and was also the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, losing to Lyndon B. Johnson. His stance on nuclear weapons led Johnson's campaign to run the famous "Daisy" ad (see below), which may have helped to seal the incumbent president's win in '64.

Synopsis: Senator Goldwater of Arizona has become the most influential exponent in this country of the theory  that those least governed are best governed. Here he presents his alternatives to federal regulation in a wide variety of fields including:
                                 -aid to education
                                 -labor unions and labor policies
                                 -individual income, as determined by tax policies
                                 -civil rights
                                 -care of the aged, the sick, the unemployed

Review: I don't think it would come as a shock to anyone who reads my blog regularly if I were to say unequivocally that I am and have always been a Liberal. With a capital L. Yet, I'm also a proponent of political debate, of listening to the other side, of compromising (only when it's for the best), and of learning all that you can about other viewpoints. So, while I went into this book knowing that I most likely would disagree with, um, everything in it, I still kept an open mind...for as long as I could.

I'm not here to extol the virtues of being a Liberal, nor am I here to convince you of why I find what Goldwater discusses in this book to be reprehensible. This is, after a book blog and not a political soapbox. So, I am hereby setting down my political junkie hat and putting on my book critic hat. This review is not about the content of Goldwater's book, but the book itself.

A slim and passionate volume, The Conscience of a Conservative, although ghostwritten, is attributed to Goldwater and is brimming with his own political ideas. Therefore, to make it easier for me to write about I'm just going to say that this is his book. From his views on education to his disdain for labor unions, Goldwater lays down his agenda, one which has inspired both political discourse and political discord for the last several decades. Although usually to the point, occasionally the book takes on a more flowery, grandiose tone which I think detracts from his message of staunch Conservatism. This isn't to say that Conservatives aren't allowed to be flowery or grandiose; they're just as welcome to have moments of pomposity as Liberals are. What I mean is that occasionally his arguments were a little hard to follow because of the way in which they were written. Other than that, this was an easy-to-read book, especially for those who are knowledgeable enough about the world of the the '60s and '70s (either by living through them or learning about them) to understand where Goldwater is coming from.

Like many political writers of either party, Goldwater throws a lot of blame around. Liberals, Communists, the UN, labor unions--all are seen by Goldwater as being culpable. For me, this is a good thing because my book is about the use of blame in society and politics, but for the casual reader this may get a bit tedious after a while. In the same vein, Goldwater states some things as being true (such as his idea that no country has ever survived being a "welfare state," which basically means providing education, health care, etc. through the government) without actually giving proof. He also doesn't cite anything so the whole book is basically his opinion and it's taken as a given that the reader will agree with him without any corroborating information.

The book is interesting, especially given what's taking place in politics today. Anyone looking for the origins of the Tea Party movement, Libertarianism, or other Conservative movements will find it here. As a political treatise it is pretty well-argued, but as a basis for government, I personally think that it falls short.

One of the most telling things about Conscience of a Conservative is Goldwater's stance on the Soviet Union and it's alleged manipulation of the U.N. For those who are following the United States' current involvement in the United Nations (especially its refusal to help fund UNESCO after the induction of Palestine into the organization), the parallels between what Goldwater rails against the USSR doing and what the U.S. is currently doing are striking.

I'm giving The Conscience of a Conservative 4 out of 5 Gabriels. While I don't agree with what this book espouses, nor do I appreciate the book's "this-is-the-only-way" attitude, it isn't a poorly-written book. I highly recommend reading it in order to get an idea of what helped to shape the current political climate.



  1. I recently read a book and reviewed it from two perspectives. From one point of view, I gave the book 3 stars because it was well written, although not brilliantly so, and it's audience would find it a pleasant read.

    I, however, am not the target audience so from the other point of view, I pretty much ripped the book apart, finding it dull, uninspired, and an insult to anyone's intelligence.

    But there is a huge readership out there for some books and I try not to presume that everyone who likes and even appreciates the book is necessarily unintelligent. I just wish more people would approach some of what they read with not only an open mind but a healthy dose of skepticism and a modicum of intelligence. Being open-minded shouldn't immediately be manifested as gullible or naive and even faith should allow room for rationalism.

  2. Satia: I don't even know how to respond to that because, frankly, it may be the best, most brilliant comment I've ever received on this blog. I agree wholeheartedly with what you said. Tomorrow I'll be reviewing Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal and I feel that, just like those who are liberal should read Goldwater's book, people who are conservative should read Krugman's.

    I definitely do not agree with everything that I read, even when it's written by someone who shares a similar worldview with me. That's the beauty of a) keeping an open mind and b) being a critical thinker. I try to expose myself to as many viewpoints as possible, especially of people with whom I vehemently disagree.

    I could have ripped the ideas in this book to shreds, but honestly, that would have been a book in itself rather than a blog post. :)