Goldwater

Princeton University Press has published a new edition of Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative (ghosted by L. Brent Bozell) as part of the James Madison Library in American Politics series curated by Sean Wilentz. The new edition includes a new foreword by George Will and a new afterword by RFK Jr. Both are pretty interesting. Will’s foreword doesn’t so much break new ground as state surprisingly forthrightly what some of the tensions were, even from the beginning, between Goldwater and much of the conservative intellectual movement:

Goldwater was a conservative from, and formed by, a place with precious little past to conserve. Westerners have no inclination to go through life with cricks in their necks from looking backward. When Goldwater became the embodiment of American conservatism–partly by his own efforts, and partly because he was conscripted by others for the role–that guaranteed that the mainstream of American conservatism would be utterly American. The growing conservative intelligentsia would savor many flavors of conservatism, from Edmund Burke’s to T.S. Eliot’s, conservatisms grounded on religious reverence, nostalgia, and resistance to the permanent revolution of conditions in a capitalist, market society. Such conservatisms would have been unintelligible, even repellent, to Goldwater, if he had taken time to notice them.

Of course, Bozell was, if anything, even more of a traditionalist than the Burke-Eliot brigades, yet he was the one who wrote the book for Goldwater, a point which both Will and RFK downplay. The book actually does serve as an example of “fusionism,” then, though ironically both Bozell and Goldwater, for different reasons, came to be quite disaffected with the conservative movement.

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