Defining the Goldwater Legacy: Conservative, Liberal or Libertarian?

NRO’s Jonah Goldberg recently accused libertarians of defecating on cultural tradition, but now it seems that he’s excreting his social agenda on the small government half of the conservative movement. Fortunately, Reason‘s Nick Gillespie was up to the task of defending libertarianism (while passing out free t-shirts) during that battle, but the war rages on. In an effort to paint the late Barry Goldwater as a fag-hating Christian Coalition wannabe, Goldberg chooses to beat up on John Dean for this:

The Bush-Cheney White House, Dean assures us, has betrayed the Goldwater tradition: “Bible-thumping, finger-pointing, tongue-lashing attacks on homosexuals are not found in Russell Kirk’s classic conservative canons, nor in James Burnham’s guides to conservative governing.”

Goldberg’s article trashes Goldwater’s granddaughter for her HBO documentary “Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater,” which I seriously hope isn’t some sort of sexual euphemism. As I haven’t seen it yet, I’ll refrain from speculative commentary on the topic. If Goldberg is correct in that the film portrays Goldwater as some sort of extreme bedwetting liberal, I’ll certainly stand by Goldberg in defense of Goldwater against such charges.

In the meantime, Goldberg seems to feel that Goldwater was some sort of socially intolerant bigot. In a recent Playboy article, Dean suggested something Goldberg should perhaps dig into a bit. Here’s a clip from my review of Dean’s article:

Dean, a self-identified Goldwater conservative, took a stab at answering these and related questions in his article entitled “Radicals on the Rise.” Using the work of Bob Altemeyer; who penned Right-Wing Authoritarianism, Enemies of Freedom: Understanding Right Wing Authoritarianism and The Authoritarian Specter; Dean took a look at the personality traits of some conservatives. He found that the following common traits tend to exist among right-wing authoritarians:

These men and women are typically conventional in their ways and highly religious with moderate to little education; their prejudices (particularly against homosexuals, women and religions other than their own) are often conspicuous; they are mean-spirited, narrow-minded and intolerant; they are uncritical in their thinking regarding their chosen authority and therefore hold inconsistent and contradictory positions; they are prone to panic, highly self-righteous, moralistic and punitive; they throw the book at others when punishing; and they have little self-awareness.

He stated that Altemeyer told him this group would “attack France, Massachusetts or the moon” if the president pushed the idea. His critique of socially dominating authoritarian leaders was more damning:

They are typically dominating men who constantly seek personal power for themselves; they have an amoral view of the world; they intimidate and bully as a matter of course; they are faintly hedonistic and generally vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, and dishonest; they are highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic), mean-spirited, militant and nationalistic; they tell others what they want to hear, will take advantage of suckers, and they often create false images of themselves to achieve their goals.

He then brought to our attention the truly scary people: the ones who score high on both the authoritarian and the leader scale. He categorized Karl Rove as a right-wing follower and Bill Frist as a socially dominating authoritarian. Obviously, Hitler was the prototypical example of one who scored high on both scales. Dick Cheney served as a more recent example of a “double high.”

What Goldberg doesn’t seem to understand is that he’s one of those authoritarians Dean, Altemeyer and even our referenced survey on the issue illustrate. Goldberg is a bright guy and he seemed to be on the verge of “getting it” with this statement:

Still, what confuses many people is this idea that social conservatism and small-government conservatism are inherently at odds. They surely can be “” and I’d love for this administration to channel more of Goldwater’s libertarian sentiments.

Goldberg lost it when he pulled up this quote from long before Goldwater’s libertarian epiphany, though.

But Goldwater understood something this crowd doesn’t. “It is impossible to maintain freedom and order and justice,” he declared in 1964, “without religious and moral sanctions.”

Perhaps if Goldberg had lived under Taliban rule for a few years, he’d be willing to give up those religious and moral sanctions he finds so dear.

posted by Stephen Gordon
  • Evergreen

    In all the years I have been following politics
    I have yet to see a “small governemt conservative”.
    They talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.

    How about we be “free market liberals” instead?
    Evergreen

  • Timothy West

    as Mr. Clark put it so well in 1980: low tax liberals.

  • Stephen Gordon

    Which is what, in 1981, Goldwater became.

  • Wes P

    Let’s be libertarians
    and scorn attempts to paint us with the tainted brushes of liberalism and conservatism.

  • DP

    What Wes said.

  • http://www.pnar.org/ Tom Blanton

    What Wes said

  • paulie

    What’s wrong with liberal? If I have to abandon a perfectly good label because of what others have made of it, I should abandon libertarian too. Incidentally, in the original seating arrangement that first defined “left” and “right” we were on the left. So, I have no problem in calling myself a leftist liberal, although my views are not nearly those of most people calling themselves that. Roderick Long does a good job of explaining our common roots with the left, why we should return to them, and where the confusion of libertarianism with conservatism originates:

    http://mises.org/story/2099

    or listen here

    http://mises.org/multimedia/mp3/asc2006/asc06-Long.mp3

  • jeffrey smith

    “religious and moral sanctions” don’t necessarily mean externally imposed sanctions. The phrase also encompasses internal moral codes sincerely acted on, and the limits they place on one’s actions. If I believe robbery is wrong, then I won’t rob, whether or not some judge or cleric is there to punish me if I do.

  • Devious David

    Altermeyer understands the genetically damaged conservative brain well. He left out a little bit though. Many conservative followers who are men are whipped and have their wives wear the pants at home. They are also cowards. They are shamed by this and feel insecure and in need of compensation by it. So they like to tough-talk in the sandbox lest their manhood come into question. I find their mindset to be juvenile in this regard, not to mention many more. I am sure many of you would agree that their defensive mechanisms are exhibited by many people who are unable or unwilling to cope in a normal, healthy, rational way with their insecurities. To even admit to the insecurity would be to aid and abet the enemy!!!

  • http://articulatecampaigns.com Allen Hacker

    Hmmmm….

    “These men and women are typically conventional in their ways and highly religious with moderate to little education; their prejudices (particularly against homosexuals, women and religions other than their own) are often conspicuous; they are mean-spirited, narrow-minded and intolerant; they are uncritical in their thinking regarding their chosen authority and therefore hold inconsistent and contradictory positions; they are prone to panic, highly self-righteous, moralistic and punitive; they throw the book at others when punishing; and they have little self-awareness.”

    So, Which schizoid of the megaparty is this describing? You can eat a bad peach or a bad apple, but either way what comes up is vomit.

    -0-

  • Devious David

    mmmmm…. vomit.

  • getreal

    It is fitting that Goldwater the Republican was more a libertarian when we have so many Libertarian candidates who are more Republicans. I’ve seen too many moralistic conservatives who think supporting free markets makes them “libertarian” dancing around the LP these days. So I’ve defected. Count me out. Apparently one can be more conservative than the Republicans and pretend that is libertarianism these days.

  • Michael H. Wilson

    In #12 getreal makes a great point.
    As I recall the LP used to mean Civil Liberties,
    Economic Freedom and Non-intervention.
    Today we are smaller government, even though Clinton said the era of big governnment was over a few years back. Fewer taxes, which is on the LP website, does not mean “economic freedom”. You can run a cheap ass government that gives out no wellfare checks., but still have a host of laws that keep people in “their place”. The Old South was just that way. And what ever happened to Non-Intervention?. I think it got lost in the shuffle. The U.S. should never have been in the first gulf war and then there probably wouldn’t have been the same crap we are dealing with today. But Maggie Thather talked George Bush Sr. into it. and then the LP said little, or nothing.
    M.H.W.

  • R. E. Lee

    “I have little interest in streamlining government or in 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. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible.And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituent’s ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.”
    Sen. Barry Goldwater

    No, he didn’t live up to this fully, but I think he tried.
    Can anyone say that he wasn’t a better defender of individual liberty than the 100 people who currently sit in the U.S. Senate?

  • Julian

    He was a libertarian before the LP even existed. I voted for him for President.

    For you that know history, I could vote in 1964 at 18 because Georgia was the first and only state that allowed voting at 18, not 21 as the rest of the states at that time.

    I was disappointed he lost because his stands then were classic libertarianism, minimal government, personal liberty and the use of military force for self-defense only although he was improperly portrayed as itching to push the nuclear button by Democratic sanctioned TV commercials.

    Somehow, the label libertarian today has a connotation of nutcase super radical pure anarchists in the minds of many people. What happened?

  • Timothy West
  • http://www.myspace.com/undercover_anarchist undercover_anarchist

    Stephen Gordon, you make me proud to be a libertarian. Articles like this reinforce the notion that the LP is something more than hard-right conservatives.

  • Don Wills

    Julian writes -

    “Somehow, the label libertarian today has a connotation of nutcase super radical pure anarchists in the minds of many people. What happened?”

    The nutcase super radical pure anarchists took over the debate and the LP. The perception of “many people” is a reflection of reality.