The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry M. Goldwater
  • Title: The Conscience of a Conservative
  • Subtitle: None
  • Author(s): Barry M. Goldwater
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Year: 2021-06-08
  • ISBN-10: 1400827620
  • ISBN-13: 9781400827626


The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater is a seminal work that has shaped the conservative movement in the United States since its publication in 1960. Goldwater, a five-term senator from Arizona and the Republican Party’s nominee for President in 1964, lays out his principles and philosophies in this concise and thought-provoking book.

The book begins by presenting a scathing critique of the growing power and influence of the federal government. Goldwater argues that conservatives should champion the principles of limited government, individual liberty, and free-market capitalism. He espouses a strict interpretation of the Constitution, asserting that states’ rights must be protected and centralized authority curtailed.

One of the key issues Goldwater tackles is the question of economic policy. He advocates for reducing government involvement in the economy, including lower taxes and limited regulation. Goldwater firmly believes that individual freedom and economic prosperity go hand in hand, and he warns against the dangers of excessive government intervention stifling innovation and entrepreneurship.

Beyond economic matters, Goldwater also delves into social and foreign policy issues. He staunchly defends traditional values, arguing against the encroachment of government in matters of personal morality. Goldwater stands firm on the importance of individual responsibility and limited welfare programs. Moreover, he cautions against unnecessary foreign entanglements and advocates for a strong national defense.

In “The Conscience of a Conservative,” Goldwater presents a rigorous case for conservative principles and offers insights that continue to resonate in today’s political landscape. Whether one aligns with Goldwater’s ideologies or not, this book remains a significant contribution to the political discourse as it challenges readers to reexamine their own beliefs and consider alternative perspectives.


Book Review

The Conscience of a Conservative: A Classic Work Redefining the Right

The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater is a groundbreaking book that continues to resonate as one of the most influential works in American political thought. Originally published in 1960, it served as a foundational text for the conservative movement in the United States, challenging the prevailing assumptions in politics and shaping the ideological landscape for decades to come. With eloquence and conviction, Goldwater articulates his principles and beliefs, paving the way for a new era of conservative thought.

Goldwater’s unwavering commitment to limited government and individual liberty permeates the pages of this book. He passionately argues against the encroachment of federal authority, asserting that “the principles that guided our forefathers… are the only principles that can guarantee freedom to all Americans” (Goldwater, 1960, p. 9). By advocating for a strict interpretation of the Constitution, Goldwater emphasizes the importance of states’ rights and the need to curtail the power of the federal government. He firmly believes that this is essential for preserving individual freedom.

Goldwater’s stance on economic policy is equally compelling. He contends that prosperity and individual freedoms are inseparable, and calls for a reduction in government interference in the economy. He writes, “The American economic system and the American political system rest on the same foundations - individual liberty…The highest levels of prosperity are attained by such free enterprises” (Goldwater, 1960, p. 30). His arguments for lower taxes, limited regulation, and free-market capitalism still resonate with conservative thinkers today, serving as a foundation for policies aiming to stimulate economic growth and promote individual initiative.

Goldwater’s conservative principles extend beyond economic matters. In “The Conscience of a Conservative,” he addresses social issues and personal morality, arguing against the intrusion of government into the private lives of citizens. With conviction, he defends the role of traditional values and personal responsibility. Goldwater writes, “Government has no right to decree that prosperity must be achieved at the sacrifice of self-respect, dignity, and personal liberty” (Goldwater, 1960, p. 24). He warns against excessive government intervention that could erode the moral fabric of society.

Furthermore, Goldwater sheds light on his foreign policy stance, emphasizing the importance of a strong national defense while advocating for caution in getting involved in foreign conflicts. He asserts the need to avoid unnecessary entanglements and prioritize American interests first. He writes, “We must have the courage to be prudent… We should be the friend of liberty everywhere, but the custodian only of our own” (Goldwater, 1960, p. 39). This approach to foreign policy echoes a recurring sentiment among conservative thinkers throughout history.

The Conscience of a Conservative” has stood the test of time as a cornerstone of conservative political thought. Barry Goldwater’s eloquent and compelling arguments continue to shape the conservative movement, providing a solid foundation for debates on limited government, individual liberty, economic policy, social values, and foreign affairs. While some may disagree with certain aspects of Goldwater’s ideology, this book invites readers to engage in thoughtful reflection and encourages dialogue across different political perspectives.

As a work that challenges both conservatives and those of opposing viewpoints, “The Conscience of a Conservative” is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the evolution of American conservative thought. Regardless of one’s political inclinations, Goldwater’s insights provoke critical thinking and encourage the exploration of alternative perspectives. For both scholars and casual readers, this book remains a valuable resource and a testament to the enduring power of ideas in shaping the trajectory of a nation.

Word Count: 614

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 constituents' 'interests,' I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

Key Ideas

In “The Conscience of a Conservative,” Barry Goldwater presents several key ideas that have become fundamental principles of the conservative movement in the United States. These ideas shape Goldwater’s vision of limited government, individual liberty, free-market capitalism, and a traditional moral framework. Here are some of the key ideas in the book:

  1. Limited Government Goldwater argues that the federal government should be strictly limited in its powers and responsibilities. He advocates for a strict interpretation of the Constitution and emphasizes the importance of states’ rights. Goldwater believes that a strong centralized authority threatens individual freedom and that government intervention should be minimal.

  2. Individual Liberty Protecting individual liberty is a core principle in Goldwater’s conservative philosophy. He contends that personal freedom is the foundation of American society and that it must be safeguarded against encroachments by the government. Goldwater highlights the importance of individual initiative, personal responsibility, and the pursuit of happiness according to one’s own values and ambitions.

  3. Economic Conservatism Goldwater argues for free-market capitalism and minimal government interference in the economy. He believes that low taxes, limited regulation, and economic freedom are vital for economic growth, innovation, and individual prosperity. Goldwater asserts that government intervention stifles individual initiative and leads to a more coercive society.

  4. Social Conservatism Goldwater defends traditional values and personal morality against what he perceives as government encroachment. He contends that government should not play a role in dictating personal choices, moral decisions, or the behavior of individuals. Goldwater upholds the importance of family, religion, and the preservation of societal values as a bulwark against excessive regulation.

  5. Foreign Policy Prudence Goldwater argues for a cautious and principled approach to foreign policy. He cautions against unnecessary foreign entanglements and advocates prioritizing national interests. Goldwater emphasizes the importance of a strong national defense while urging restraint in military interventions and the protection of American sovereignty.

These ideas presented in “The Conscience of a Conservative” laid the groundwork for the modern conservative movement in the United States. Goldwater’s vision, though published over six decades ago, has had a lasting impact on American politics, continuing to shape conservative thought and influence political discourse today.


Target Audience

The book “The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater is primarily targeted at readers interested in conservative political thought and those seeking a deeper understanding of the foundational principles of the conservative movement. It is recommended reading for the following audiences:

  • Conservative Thinkers and Activists This book serves as a foundational text for conservatives, providing a clear articulation of conservative principles and values. It offers intellectual grounding and a historical perspective that can strengthen the convictions of conservative thinkers and activists.

  • Political Science Students and Scholars “The Conscience of a Conservative” is relevant reading for students and scholars interested in American political thought and ideology. It provides valuable insights into the development of conservative thinking and its impact on American political discourse.

  • History Buffs Given its historical significance and the lasting impact of Goldwater’s ideas, “The Conscience of a Conservative” is recommended for history enthusiasts who are interested in understanding pivotal moments in American political history. It sheds light on the conservative movement of the 1960s and its enduring influence.

  • Readers Seeking Alternative Perspectives This book is valuable for readers who want to expand their understanding of political ideology and engage with ideas that may differ from their own viewpoints. Even those who may not identify as conservative can benefit from engaging with Goldwater’s arguments and challenging their own assumptions.

In conclusion, “The Conscience of a Conservative” is recommended reading for individuals interested in conservative political thought, political science students and researchers, history enthusiasts, and readers seeking to broaden their understanding of political ideology. Goldwater’s insights provide intellectual grounding, historical context, and an opportunity for critical engagement with conservative principles.

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