July 16, 1964: Extremism and Moderation



The Republican candidate was frequently called a Nazi and his supporters extremist nuts.  Sound familiar?  For many American liberals Barry Goldwater was the new Hitler and his followers brownshirts.  This seems humorous now, especially as Goldwater, in his later years turning on social conservatives, became the favorite conservative of liberals.  It was all deadly serious in 1964.  Goldwater had worked a revolution in his party, making the conservative wing dominant.  This had led to an acrimonious convention which was televised to the nation.  In most ways it was a mirror image to the McGovern Democratic Convention of 1972.  In each case the candidate went down to landslide defeat, but won a long term victory for his ideology within his party.

Goldwater’s speech was a cut above intellectually from most political speeches.  It was written by historian Harry Jaffa, who died at 96 in 2015.  The most quoted line from the speech is, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is not a virtue”.  When the line was criticized Goldwater would claim that it was from Cicero.  He probably thought this because novelist Taylor Caldwell gave Goldwater a note which contained a quote from A Pillar of Iron, her then forthcoming historical fiction novel on Cicero which would be published in 1965.  Caldwell had Cicero say in defense of his execution of Senators involved in the Conspiracy of Catiline:

“I must remind you, Lords, Senators, that extreme patriotism in the defense of freedom is no crime, and let me respectfully remind you that pusillanimity in the pursuit of justice is no virtue in a Roman.”

Here is the text of Goldwater’s speech:

To my good friend and great Republican, Dick Nixon, and your charming wife, Pat; my running mate and that wonderful Republican who has served us well for so long, Bill Miller and his wife, Stephanie; to Thurston Morton who has done such a commendable job in chairmaning this Convention; to Mr. Herbert Hoover, who I hope is watching; and to that great American and his wife, General and Mrs. Eisenhower; to my own wife, my family, and to all of my fellow Republicans here assembled, and Americans across this great Nation.

From this moment, united and determined, we will go forward together, dedicated to the ultimate and undeniable greatness of the whole man. Together we will win. Continue Reading


October 27, 1964: A Time For Choosing

I became a conservative by watching this speech on television a half century ago in 1964 at the age of seven.  Barry Goldwater’s campaign was doomed ab initio, but this speech of Reagan on behalf of Goldwater launched Reagan’s meteoric political career that would see him elected President sixteen years later.  What he said in that speech still defines American conservatism for me, and, I think, the vast majority of conservatives in this country.  As the intellectual godfather of the modern conservative movement in America, Russell Kirk said:

Ronald Reagan will be remembered as the President who gave hope to the American people — even great expectations. Old sureties that the ritualistic liberal had mocked were unshaken in Ronald Reagan’s mind; and President Reagan’s reaffirmation of those ancient convictions began to arouse the nation from the discouragement of twenty years or more.

Contrary to some truly misguided individuals, conservatives do not “worship” Reagan.  Reagan was simply a man, who made mistakes and had his share of human foibles and flaws.  However, he has never been surpassed for his ability to articulate conservatism to the American people and to convince vast swathes of the American people to embrace conservatism.  Reagan was the greatest conservative statesman in American history, and I pray that I will see a leader as great as him again in my lifetime, although I do not expect that I, or the country, will be that fortunate.  Here is the text of what has become known as The Speech: Continue Reading


Liberty and Justice

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. Continue Reading