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“In a country where it is now generally understood and proclaimed that the federal government spends too much, Congress annually deliberates over whether to raise the federal budget by a few billion dollars or by many billion.”

Ah, those halcyon days when Congress quaintly debated differences of a few billion dollars!

Title: The Conscience of a Conservative, by Sen. Barry Goldwater

Motivation: Widespread renown.

Completed: June 16, 2012 (#40)

Recommendation: Of more than antiquarian interest, Sen. Goldwater’s positions are virtually indistinguishable from those of the contemporary Republican Party, a fact from which conservatives and liberals may draw disparate conclusions.

To dispel any confusion, The Conscience of a Conservative was apparently ghostwritten for Sen. Goldwater in 1960 by L. Brent Bozell, Jr., former Yale classmate and debating partner of (and brother-in-law to) William F. Buckley, Jr. and an early pillar of the conservative movement. Be that as it may, one nevertheless hears the lilting timbre of Sen. Goldwater’s uniquely strident voice:

Perhaps we suffer from an over-sensitivity to the judgments of those who rule the mass communications media. We are daily consigned by “enlightened” commentators to political oblivion: Conservatism, we are told, is out-of-date. The charge is preposterous and we ought boldly to say so. The laws of God, and of nature, have no dateline. The principles on which the Conservative political position is based have been established by a process that has nothing to do with the social, economic and political landscape that changes from decade to decade and from century to century. These principles are derived from the nature of man, and from the truths that God has revealed about His creation. Circumstances do change. So do the problems that are shaped by circumstances. But the principles that govern the solution of the problems do not. To suggest that the Conservative philosophy is out of date is akin to saying that the Golden Rule, or the Ten Commandments or Aristotle’s Politics are out of date. The Conservative approach is nothing more or less than an attempt to apply the wisdom and experience and the revealed truths of the past to the problems of today. The challenge is not to find new or different truths, but to learn how to apply established truths to the problems of the contemporary world. My hope is that one more Conservative voice will be helpful in meeting this challenge.

Reading a political polemic from an earlier age normally has the preserved in aspic feel of yesterday’s newspaper. Reading The Conscience of a Conservative in the summer of 2012 quite literally sounds like yesterday’s newspaper:

In the case that upheld the second AAA, Wickard v. Filburn, (1942), a farmer had been fined for planting 23 acres of wheat, instead of the eleven acres the government had allotted him—notwithstanding that the “excess” wheat had been consumed on his own farm. Now how in the world, the farmer wanted to know, can it be said that the wheat I feed my own stock is in interstate commerce? That’s easy, the Court said. If you had not used your own wheat for feed, you might have bought feed from someone else, and that purchase might have affected the price of wheat that was transported in interstate commerce! By this bizarre reasoning the Court made the commerce clause as wide as the world and nullified the Constitution’s clear reservation to the States of jurisdiction over agriculture.

The book may be finished in one sitting and is a more eloquent (if more vehement) exposition of the Republican case for limited government than is likely to be voiced in the present campaign season. Aside from the passages relating to the Cold War (which themselves are quite fascinating reading), virtually everything in Sen. Goldwater’s tract remains in active dispute today.

The branding may have changed a bit since 1964, however: