The Conscience of a Conservative | Barry M. Goldwater

Summary of: The Conscience of a Conservative
By: Barry M. Goldwater


Welcome to the fascinating world of ‘The Conscience of a Conservative’ by Barry M. Goldwater, a compelling book that sheds light on the political philosophy of conservatism. This summary aims to break down complex ideas into digestible and engaging pieces, as we delve into the essence of conservatism as a comprehensive and holistic worldview. Touching on themes such as limited government, the Constitution, states’ rights, civil rights, trade unions, taxation, and the welfare state, we explore how conservatism looks at the ‘whole man’ and how it seeks to secure both economic and political freedom for individuals, striking a delicate balance between these freedoms and societal order.

The Holistic Creed of Conservatism

The book argues that conservatism is more than just a political philosophy; it is a holistic creed that takes into account the whole person. Unlike liberalism, which focuses solely on material well-being, conservatism recognizes the importance of nurturing the spiritual side of human nature. This can only be achieved through both economic and political freedom, which are necessary for individuals to flourish. However, conservatives understand that these freedoms cannot be absolute and must be balanced by certain limitations and duties in order to maintain social order.

Limited Government and Its Erosion

The United States Constitution enshrines the principle of limited government. It allows the state to exercise necessary powers while being prevented from assuming additional ones. The Constitution also places obstacles in the way of anyone who seeks to extend the power of the federal state. However, by the 1960s, both parties had transformed the federal government into a bloated leviathan with an annual budget of $100 billion, up from just $30.5 billion three decades earlier. This was due to demagogic officials who won votes by promising greater power in exchange for security.

Erosion of liberty through the erosion of states’ rights

The Founding Fathers designed the Constitution to delegate political questions locally rather than federally, but the power-hungry federal government has blurred the line between federal and state jurisdiction. Matching funds are a clear example of this erosion of states’ rights, as states are subjected to a mix of blackmail and bribery by the federal government. This violates the Tenth Amendment, which confirms that states have the right to act and not act, and their decisions can only be made by the people of a given state. By overstepping its constitutional role, the federal government is also depriving the inhabitants of these states of the right to define their own interests, thus eroding liberty.

The Compatibility of States’ Rights and Civil Rights

The book explains that the notion that civil rights and states’ rights are in conflict with each other is a common misconception. The Constitution sets a hard limit to states’ power when it encroaches individual rights protected by federal law, otherwise, states can do anything that has not been delegated to the federal government or banned by the Constitution. Civil rights are rights protected by valid laws. The legal definition of these rights should be compatible with the Constitution. The book demonstrates that the Constitution does not cover federal intervention in states to ensure racially mixed schools. It is not a civil right for black or white children to attend mixed-race schools, but desegregating education may be both just and wise. In 1954, the Supreme Court recognized this and gave the federal government the power to desegregate schools by force. The court could not turn the clock back to 1868 when the first Civil Rights Act was passed, so it had to consider public education in light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the nation. The court emphasized the significance of its ideas rather than the Constitution.

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