The American Prospect offers a mea culpa from a one-time Goldwater conservative.
Since the liberalism of the time was as smug as the conservatism of the future would be sanctimonious, I was secretly pleased when a history teacher in high school called my opinions “dangerous.” What teenager doesn’t want to be dangerous, especially when he’s so undangerous in so many other ways? The conservatism I embraced was a whole greater than the sum of the parts, the emphasis on individual freedom trumping stuff that I considered to be fine print. While I never liked the sound of a welfare state, I was enough of a softy to have balked at denying help to people who needed it; to the extent that I understood it, the idea that arose from the Great Crash of 1929—that there should be a division between commercial banks and investment banks, without which the great crash of 2008 later became possible—sounded perfectly sensible and, if anything, like a conservative idea. I didn’t really know what the Tennessee Valley Authority was or what it meant that Goldwater mused openly about selling it off. Goldwater mused openly about a lot of things that I took with a nuclear silo worth of salt.
As if contemporary liberals and self-styled progressives aren't still smug and sanctimonious. The only thing that tempers the contemporary enthusiasm is that there are fewer people alive for whom the expression "New Deal" or "Pettis Bridge" functions as a Piece of the True Cross.

The author's complaint with what took over the Republican Party, however, was that he didn't see his conservatism in use.
Most striking, three impulses distinguished the new right. The first was how the right’s enmity toward centralized state power was matched by an adoration of centralized corporate power. This constituted an abandonment of the principle of a truly free marketplace —- with entrepreneurship and the flourishing of small business becoming more constrained and difficult —- and the overarching principle of decentralization. The second impulse was the displacement of liberty as conservatism’s core priority by a new priority, “values,” by which the right invariably meant sexual behavior, predominantly the sexual behavior of women and homosexuals. The third new impulse was most profound. This was a reconceptualization of the republic as one in which citizens are bound not by a Constitution in which God isn’t once mentioned, euphemized, or alluded to but by an unwritten Christian covenant that implicitly subjects free will to an organizing ethos that’s unmistakably theocratic. What was a freedom movement became an authority/wealth/religious movement. The new conservatism now spoke of the Bill of Rights with thinly veiled contempt. Conservatism continued to pay lip service to freedom in the abstract even as the only freedoms in the specific that it defended with urgency were the right to make a profit and to own a gun. If the language of conservatism, as given voice by President Reagan, hadn’t changed, its very essence had transformed, within two decades of Goldwater’s defeated run for the presidency.
Put another way, theological conservatism, or pro-business conservatism, or national-greatness conservatism, are all at odds with libertarian conservatism.  These four mind-sets could make common cause against Soviet Communism, and there are ways for those mind-sets to make common cause against whatever the Democrats are currently up to.  But, as in 2004, there is no major political party dedicated to the proposition that "conceived in liberty" matters as much as "created equal".

No comments: