Let us now look at a contemporary who was a true conservative, and compare and contrast (mostly contrast) him with today's so-called conservatives.
That person is Senator Barry Goldwater, Sr., who was returned to the U.S. Senate several times by voters in Arizona. He was nominated for president by the Republican Party in 1964, during the time the GOP was flirting with a vague form of libertarianism. While Goldwater was not a pure libertarian in the Libertarian Party sense or the Murray Rothbard sense, he was certainly much closer to that than he was to present-day neoconservativism.
Though he lost the election very badly to Democrat Lyndon Johnson, he was for a long time thereafter considered the quintessential conservative. Today, President George W. Bush is considered the quintessential conservative. Let us now compare and contrast the two brands of conservatism. We have already shown that Bush's conservatism is very much like the Left. But, what of Goldwater's?
I cut my teeth on this during the 1964 campaign, fiercely supporting Barry Goldwater because of his emphasis on individual freedom. I was very active: I attended meetings and work parties, I rode in motorcades and I was a "Goldwater Girl" at Madison Square Garden. I read everything by him I could get my hands on, including Conscience of a Conservative(1).
If you look at the back of the paperback edition you see a very interesting Goldwater quote: "Freedom depends on effective restraints against the accumulation of power in a single authority." Contrast this with what the "conservative" Bush administration is doing now.
Open the book and, right away, in the foreword, Goldwater states, "The truths that guided our Republic through its early days will do equally well for us." This was written long after the Lincoln or Roosevelt eras, but true conservatism was still alive. The foreword is really straightforward. Today's neoconservatives really should read it. They will not like it, at least not the ones who have left the slightest ability to reason.
He says a number of things: The New Deal was not conservative. Individual self-reliance is. Paternalism is not conservative. Decentralized government (meaning more power to the States than to the Federal government) is. To swallow whole what the mainstream media tells us is not conservative. Independent thought and seeing for oneself is. Belief in a homogenous collective is not conservative. Acknowledgement of individual uniqueness, and respect for differences, is.
True conservatives are progressive in the real sense. It was the eternal truths of individual freedom and self-responsibility that the country was founded on that brought about the progress we have seen. Progress cannot be forced. If it is, it is not progress.
Goldwater said, "Throughout history, true Conservatism has been at war equally with autocrats and 'democratic' Jacobins. ... The conscience of the Conservative is pricked by anyone who would debase the dignity of the individual human being. Today, therefore, he is at odds with dictators who rule by terror, and equally with those gentler collectivists who ask our permission to play god with the human race." (Emphasis mine.) (2)
This just about says it all, doesn't it? I have to interpret that as meaning that we must oppose George W. Bush with the same fervor that we oppose Saddam Hussein.
Of course, Goldwater's international policy was not what libertarians today would endorse. He did call for victory in Vietnam rather than for the immediate troop withdrawal he should have advocated. He thought that Communism would invade our shores if we did not stay active overseas. We now know that it was those very activities – so often seen as imperialist -- that have caused all kinds of trouble both at home and abroad, and that includes the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Be that as it may, Goldwater demonstrates what true conservatism is: very different from neoconservatism.
(1) Goldwater, Barry, Conscience of a Conservative, MacFadden-Bartel Corporation, New York, 1960.
(2) Ibid. P. 13.