Goldwater Remembered


With No Apologies: The Personal and Political Memoirs of United States Senator Barry Goldwater, New York: William Morrow, 1979, 320 pp., $12.95.

I must confess, I have a soft spot in my heart for Barry Goldwater. Like many libertarian activists, I first became involved in the political process via Goldwater's presidential campaign. And while I have never accepted his worldview or prescriptions in their entirety, I am convinced to this day that he was (and is) a man of integrity and intelligence, motivated by a fundamental—albeit imperfect—commitment to the preservation and furtherance of human liberty.

A reading of With No Apologies confirms this assessment and offers some intriguing insights into what makes Goldwater tick. Much of the book is devoted to accounts of personal experience—presented, for the most part, in chronological order—and there are numerous fascinating "snapshots" of the high and the mighty along the way.

We learn, for instance, that Barry liked Ike, looked forward to running against JFK in 1964, sympathized with LBJ's trials in office, and distrusted Nixon. His greatest contempt is reserved for Wayne Morse; With No Apologies contains several bitter references to Morse's defection from the GOP on the crucial vote to organize the US Senate in 1955. This defection cost the Republicans control of the Senate and, in Goldwater's opinion, kept the Eisenhower administration from changing things for the better.

For most libertarians, however, the personality assessments will likely be of less interest than Goldwater's expositions of his political philosophy and his stated concerns for the future of freedom. And there is no doubt that a devotion to individual liberty ranks high in the Senator's priorities. Throughout the book, the importance of freedom is stressed repeatedly.

In the very first chapter, he says: "To my mind there is a cause. That cause is freedom. We stand in danger of losing that freedom—not to a foreign tyrant, but to those well-intentioned but misguided elitist utopians who stubbornly refuse to profit from the errors of the past." This thought is echoed, a few pages later, by the statement that "the single essential element on which all new discoveries are dependent is human freedom" (emphasis Goldwater's).

He makes the observation—quite properly—that "the Constitution of the United States is one of the most radical documents ever offered to the world. It severely restricts the authority and power of he who governs and bestows a high degree of sovereignty on the governed."

In sum, Goldwater makes it abundantly clear that he recognizes the intrinsically adversary relationship that exists between individual rights and progress, on the one hand, and government on the other. And it is this element of his thinking that drew so many of us to his cause back in 1964.

But there is another side to Goldwater's philosophy, as well. It is rooted in the belief that "man…is still sinful, greedy, ambitious, lustful, self-centered, unrepentant, and requiring of restraint," with the concomitant view that we must be "governed by laws having their origin in divine justice." And, like most conservatives, Goldwater is never quite able to resolve the conflict between these two elements of his beliefs.

When translated into political doctrine, Goldwater's philosophy emerges as a contention that government is "necessary to protect the people from our enemies overseas, to restrain the greedy and lawless, and to provide a civil framework for the growth of commerce and industry." Everything else, he maintains, "could be better done by the people themselves without government interference."

As a libertarian, I find little there to quarrel with, on paper. But, alas, when Goldwater and his fellow conservatives apply this formulation to the real world, the tune changes—sometimes drastically. When push comes to shove, Goldwater's greatest concern (as revealed throughout this book and elsewhere) is with national defense. There is nothing wrong with this; indeed, if there is any charge that can fairly be made against some libertarians, it is that they are woefully unconcerned with defense—blissfully oblivious to the designs of the beasts in the Kremlin.

Conservatives do not make that mistake. But they are often all too willing to abridge our freedoms in the name of defending them. Thus, we find the Senator deploring the "emasculation" of the FBI and CIA and lauding the imperious, bigoted J. Edgar Hoover as a "national hero."

More examples of this split-level thinking: Goldwater bemoans the growth of government power, yet calls the Freedom of Information Act an "abomination" and the War Powers Limitation Act "an ill-conceived piece of crippling legislation." And, of course, it is the presence of these and other such internal contradictions in conservative thought which led to a parting of the ways between conservatives and libertarians a decade ago.

Still, for all his inconsistencies, it is hard not to like the Goldwater that emerges from the pages of these memoirs. Say whatever else you will, he is a man who has fought for liberty (as he conceives it) to the best of his abilities, for more years than most of us can remember.

And I still think he would have made a damn fine president.

David F. Nolan is employed in the advertising field. In 1971, after a history of leadership in conservative organizations, he set up the Committee to Organize a Libertarian Party.