Barry Goldwater long ago ceased to be a hero of mine after the revelation that back in the fifties he had paid for an abortion for one of his daughters and his open embrace of abortion after his retirement. However, he was certainly a hero of mine as I watched the Republican convention in 1964 on television at the age of seven. I do not recall his speech, but I do recall watching every minute of the convention with rapt attention. Goldwater’s acceptance speech was not a great speech, Goldwater admitting himself that he was no great orator. It will always be remembered for two phrases: extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
Harry Jaffa, perhaps the foremost expert on the political thought of Abraham Lincoln, wrote the phrases for Goldwater, although Goldwater, bizarrely, claimed that the phrases were written by Cicero when the lines came under attack. Jaffa recalls helping to write the speech:
I wrote that statement, in part, as a repudiation of the critique of extremism that was made by Rockefeller and Scranton witnesses before the [platform] committee. Sometimes these things get out of hand. They are like letters you do not intend to send. But they blow out the window and somebody picks them up and they are delivered. And this one was delivered to the Senator, who fell in love with it and ordered that it be incorporated in his Acceptance Speech, and it led to my becoming the principal drafter of the speech. And, there it was. It was not my political judgment that the thing be used in the speech at all, although I must say that I was flattered at the time and didn’t think too much of what the consequences would be. . . The Senator liked it because he had been goaded by mean-spirited attacks through the long months of the primaries. Nothing in the political history of the country surpasses in fundamental indecency the kind of attacks that were made on Goldwater by Nelson Rockefeller and his followers. . . But I was not asked for the extremism statement; I had written it as an in-house memorandum, and it was appropriated. I’m not making an excuse for myself in saying I wasn’t responsible for it. I was certainly enthusiastically in favor of it at the time.
What I find interesting looking back on the speech is how Goldwater saw no contradiction between liberty and justice. Of course, since his time cries for justice are usually associated with demands for expansion of the State to address some perceived evil. However, that is a modern superstition and not an essential attribute of justice. Without justice, liberty descends rapidly into license and eventually jungle law, rule of the strong. Without liberty, justice becomes whatever those who control the State says that it is. Societies that scant on either liberty or justice soon have precious little of either. The Pledge of Allegiance is on target when it closes with the admonition: “with liberty and justice for all.”