July 16 marked the 50th Anniversary of GOP Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater’s convention acceptance speech.
Jameson Campaigne sent me to the Althouse blog, which has a nice intro and links to the full text.
As we have been developing the program for our fall meeting on “The Failure–and Future?–of the Welfare State” (more details on that soon), it troubles me to consider how wrong a turn America took in the 1960s, and I wonder how Americans could choose Johnson’s “Great Society” over Goldwater’s defense of our “constitutional form of government . . . which assures the orderly but dynamic fulfillment of the whole man . . . .”
It is up to us to continue to defend the genuine liberalism of Goldwater’s focus on the individual over the abstraction of Society. As Frank Chodorov observed:
“From describing Society as if it were a person, we slide into the habit of judging each member of the group by our impression of the whole, and of acting upon that judgment. . . .This negation of the individual, by use of words, is the premise of every socialistic rationale; socialism hasn’t a leg to stand on until the individual, like a lump of sugar, is verbally dissolved in the personification of a class. Every political scheme to ‘improve’ Society rests on this trick of words.” (The Rise and Fall of Society, 30-31)
Commenting on the Johnson victory over Goldwater, Martin Luther King Jr. stated: “the American people made a choice… to build a great society, rather than to wallow in the past.”
But what was Johnson’s Great Society? Kevin Williamson, who has agreed to speak at our conference in Grand Rapids, recently pulled back the curtain a bit in his Encounter Broadside, The Dependency Agenda:
“Robert Caro’s magisterial Johnson biography contains another illuminating exchange between Johnson and a colleague, with the president telling his fellow Democrat, ‘These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days, and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before: the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this–we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.'”
“It is necessary,” Williamson goes on, “to bear this in mind not in order to conclude that Lyndon Johnson was at best a hypocrite and at worst a moral monster – though he was – but to conclude that the Great Society was built for some other purpose than to help those whom Johnson et al. purported to help.” (39)
The Great Society or a Constitutional Republic? I’ll leave you with Goldwater:
“We see, in private property and in economy based upon and fostering private property, the one way to make government a durable ally of the whole man, rather than his determined enemy. We see in the sanctity of private property the only durable foundation for constitutional government in a free society. And beyond that, we see, in cherished diversity of ways, diversity of thoughts, of motives and accomplishments. We do not seek to lead anyone’s life for him – we seek only to secure his rights and to guarantee him opportunity to strive, with government performing only those needed and constitutionally sanctioned tasks which cannot otherwise be performed.”
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Until next time,