The Conscience of a Conservative: How Barry Goldwater’s Ideas Could Save Us | Sarah Stook

In 1960, US Senator for Arizona, Barry Goldwater released ‘The Conscience of a Conservative,’ a book in which he laid out his views on conservatism, the Republican Party and the politics of the United States of America. Four years later, Goldwater would be decimated in an election against incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson, who was riding on the public mourning of the assassinated John F. Kennedy, a close friend, if political opposite, of Goldwater.

In his book, Goldwater advocates for low taxation, limited government and states’ rights amongst other things, making him a hero to Ronald Reagan. Though not all of the issues mentioned can be matched into today’s political climate- the Cold War has thawed, and African-Americans in America have equality at least in legislative terms, but many of them can still be applied to today.

Currently, the Conservatives seem to be unclear in where we are.  The 2017 Manifesto attacked the libertarian right, and encouraged the work of big government, almost a contrast as to what we expect from our party. From energy caps to crackdowns on viewing of internet pornography, things which were u-turned upon (indeed we have no Maggie here), it seems that Mayism is a brand of conservatism which still confuses the masses. Thatcherism rejected the post-war consensus on economics and Cameronism promoted centrist, ‘compassionate conservatism’ with an aim to detoxify the party to the regular person.

15 points that Goldwater made in his excellent book relate to what the Conservative Party needs to do to rebrand itself into a true conservative party. It matters not that Goldwater died in the late 90’s, or that Conscience of a Conservative was written in the year when Kennedy was elected, it is still an excellent guideline for us to take.

  1. ‘The choices that govern his life are choices he must make; they cannot be made by another human being, or by a collectivity of human beings.’

In life, we have many freedoms, from the freedom to marry who we love, to the freedom to vote in free and fair elections. What we must allow in terms of freedom is fundamentally the freedom of choice. If one does not want to use the NHS, they have the option to take private health insurance should they wish. Parents may choose to educate children in the private system, or home school them.  We must allow both the state and private markets to flourish. Of course, not all can afford private school fees, but those who can must be allowed to. With competition comes the chance for man to choose how he conducts his business, and the chance to influence the market into putting prices that the customers choose to pay.

Grammar schools are an example of this. The choice to flaunt the idea of building more has been polarising, with some believing them to be unfair, and others thinking that they are a fantastic way of promoting social mobility. Grammar schools allow parents and children another way into the education system by adding another type of school to their list. Yes, they may need to be worked upon so that it does not favour families who can afford extra tuition, but the choice should be there.

In social policy, freedom is also important. Goldwater himself became critical of the religious right in his later life, and same-sex marriage was one of the things he distanced himself from in the Republican party. We know that same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK in 2013. It doesn’t look like it will be repealed any time soon, so gays have the choice of marriage or civil partnerships. What we must not force, however, is religious marriages in places of worship. In many churches across the UK, priests may choose to oversee a same-sex marriage, or perhaps bless it. Whilst some may disagree with their decision to refuse, they must accept that legislation will not change all minds. Fundamentally, whether it is gay marriage or not, we must allow some exemption from affairs legislated by government.


  1. ‘The Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of the social order. The Conservative is the first to understand that the practice of freedom requires the establishment of order: it is impossible for one man to be free if another is able to deny him the exercise of his freedom.’

The State, whether small or large, is accepted by all major partisan figures and political theorists, apart from anarchists, who believe that the we are better off without it.

Some semblance of social order is required so that we do not descend into chaos. We must allow the average citizen his or her basic human rights, we must ensure that the people of the UK live in safety and have basic laws in which to follow- such as the punishment of murder and other heinous crimes.

What Goldwater states is that order will continue as the exercise of freedom does. No man’s right to exist should infringe upon another. The existence of one man should not come to the detriment of another man’s. Of course, there are some cases when the opposite of that becomes inevitable- school places, waiting lists for important procedures etc, HOWEVER, the state should not become this. In law, this means that we should be equal in terms of opportunity. Once the state allows all people to unlock their potential in an equal marriage, it creates an order.


  1. ‘There are a number of ways in which the power of government can be measured.’
  • One is the size of its financial operations
  • Another is the scope of its activities
  • Still another is the portion of the peoples’ earnings government appropriates for its own use
  • A fourth is the extent of government interference in the daily lives of individuals

When we have less money than we need, we may turn to borrowing. That accumulates debt. Amongst friends, you may purchase a drink at a later date for a similar or equal price. When purchasing a mortgage, the bank will add interest. When borrowing from other nations, they will add interest. In general, we do not want our government to overspend. When they do, they are forced to cut or add taxes, neither of which are hugely desirable in extreme excess. The Conservative must limit itself, by only financing worthwhile projects, and making sure to live within its means.

Furthermore, the scope of its activities must be kept quiet. As alluded to previously, the state must not be the only provider of huge services. Our government may be the oligopoly in some cases, but it cannot be the monopoly. A free market must be provided, and huge government projects are in direct contrast to that.

Taxation is not to be desired, whether from the poor or the wealthy. When Chancellor Phillip Hammond put about the idea of raising taxes, there was an outcry from the average Conservative- and rightly so. If Labour wants to put up taxation, that is up to them. The Conservatives, however, should have no place for it. George H W Bush promised ‘no new taxes.’ He may have been a hero after the Gulf War, but hiking them up lost him the election in 1992. In the socialist Nordic countries, taxes on income and corporation are some of the highest. Key word here: socialist. Despite the snarky comments of some regarding the 2017 Manifesto, the Conservatives are not a socialist party.

I will not write too much on the final point of the interference of government in individual life, as I have already discussed it previously, but I will reiterate it once again: we are not a nanny state. The choice should come to the individual, not wider society.


  1. ‘Most farmers want to stand on their own feet. They are prepared to take their chances in the free market.’

This writer is no farmer, and instead consulted upon a good friend, a Conservative who lives on a farm and has strong opinions. He stated that the so long as farms maintain profitability, there is no need for subsidies, which should instead be based on environmental protection and sustainability. This, he says, is cheaper for the government, would improve sustainability and the environment.

Farmers are an integral part of our society, and the UK is rightly proud of its wonderful agricultural sector. We should not just cut things off willy nilly, the Conservatives must work hard to listen to our farmers, and to ensure that they do receive help, but are also allowed to spread their wings. Regulations are strangling farms, especially the smaller ones, and we must allow deregulation where it is safe and sustainable to do so.


  1. ‘The time has come, not to abolish unions or deprive them of deserved gains: but to redress the balance- to restore unions to their proper role in a free society.’

It is no secret that unions and the Conservatives have not been the best of friends; however, Goldwater is right in saying that banning them completely is unfair. If a teacher wants to be in the NUT, or a junior doctor in the BMA, then there should be no one stopping them from filing an application form to enter. The wonderful film Made in Dagenham documents how workers banding together allowed for equal pay legislation. The unions have pushed for rightly won victories; they have their place in history.

One workplace incident should not hold an entire industry to hostage, whether that be steel or teaching. A union should represent the worker that has asked for their help, and that worker should be treated fairly, as should the company, until a conclusion is reached. Furthermore, closed shops should not be allowed. No person should be forced to be in a union, just like a person should not be prevented from should they so choose. It should not be detrimental to a person’s employment status if they are not a member of their workplace union.

Their conduct in terms of politics is a little hazy. One must respect the right of expression that all should hold, and that unions will have strong views on certain issues. On the other hand, we should not allow unions to hold a huge power over government, and we must not pretend every union worker will be represented politically by their union. No one but the people should have unlimited power over the government.


  1. ‘Let us henceforth make war on all monopolies- whether corporate or union. The enemy of freedom is unrestrained power, and the champions of freedom will fight against the concentration of power wherever they find it.’

To disagree with Goldwater briefly, we should not attack monopolies just because we disagree with them. We should only fight against them if that is what the market, and the people, want.

Otherwise, the Conservatives should allow war on monopolies through freedom of enterprise. Legitimate and differing enterprise allows freedom in the market, and by making it easier for new business to not only start, but to survive too (mainly through deregulation), we are able to crush monopolies, but not for the sake of it. We have more than one main union- UNISON, Unite etc, and that should be the same for all industries. Allowing choice in employment protection also goes against monopolies of union, against attacking them for no reason.

The Conservatives pride themselves of being a friend of business, and that is something we should stick to, from small, local business to huge multinationals. Allowing them to thrive allows a breeding ground for soldiers against monopolies to rise.


  1. ‘Government does not have the right to an unlimited claim on the earnings of individuals. One of the foremost precepts of natural laws is man’s rights to the possession and the use of his property.’

Earning does not only include taxation- which has already been covered in this article- but the general assets of men. Of course, a man does not strictly own his house if it is rented or if the mortgage is not paid up, but that was the decision that he made when going to the bank to get a loan, and it rests squarely with him to meet the conditions met.

The state, however, has no reason to acquire private property. We have heard of cases around the world for people being forced to give up land, often without just compensation, for projects, such as the Olympic Villages in China and Brazil. In any case, even with compensation, a man’s property is his, and not the state’s. Whether to destroy it, or use it for any reason, it is not a reasonable action for the Conservative government to take in any case. As Goldwater states, there is not unlimited claim on earnings. Whilst there is some limited claim in the case of taxation, he is right in that the full property and earnings of man is not liable completely to the state.

  1. ‘The size of the government’s rightful claim- that is, the total it may take in taxes- will be determined by how we define legitimate functions of government.’

In the UK, there is no exact measure of government. In the United States, a colony that we used to know, there are several measurements- the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence and Amendments to the Constitution (particularly the Bill of Rights). Unfortunately, in the UK, the constitution is implied more than anything, and it is strictly up to interpretation.

So what can we Conservatives do? How do we define the legitimate functions of government? The truth is, we can’t. Some may say that the government is obligated to give us a healthcare system, whilst others believe we should totally leave it to the free market. Instead, it is up to us to create a general consensus.

The Conservative Party is typically one of small government, a particularly Thatcherite policy that this writer believes we should adhere to. Perhaps we should limit it to the most basic of government. We allow the government to provide services, but they should not be the only providers of the service. People should expect to live stably and security, but they should not expect the world. Simply put, the function of the government should be to provide the basics of society, but let the average person choose their own destiny, through education, through healthcare, through employment. By many of the methods stated already, this can be achieved.


  1. ‘By reducing taxes and spending, we will not only return to the individual the means with which he can assert his freedom and dignity, but also guarantee to the nation the economic strength that will always be its ultimate defence against foreign foes.’

The last part of this is not necessarily relevant today, as Goldwater was writing this at the time of the Cold War, when the United States and Soviet Union were rushing to be the most economic prosperous. That is not to say that is not still happening, but the two countries are officially ‘allies’ now, plus, this is a case study for the UK and the Conservative Party.

Again, lower taxation and spending has already been discussed. Through allowing a man or woman to keep the vast majority of their income, by both lower taxation and not forcing taxes up to accommodate more and more spending, we let them decide how they want to influence the market.


  1. ‘The effect of welfarism will be felt later on- after its beneficiaries have become its victims, after dependence on the government has turned into bondage, and it is too late to unlock the jail.’

Suddenly stopping all forms of welfare is both unnecessary and almost impossible. We cannot let the disabled receive no income, as it is not their fault that they are ill. We cannot allow citizens to starve.

At the end of the day, we cannot let those on welfare become too dependent upon the government. Many of us have seen programmes such as Skint or Benefits Street, but we must know that not everybody on welfare is a so-called ‘scrounger’ who lives to leach off of the taxpayer. Many on unemployment benefits will want to work. Unfortunately, there are always going to be those who make a living from welfare, however small or large a minority they are.

Benefits should be enough for people to live on until they find work, not enough for them to make a lifestyle out of it. We need to reform the welfare system, but we cannot pull the rug from under our people until we have come up with an alternative. The Conservatives need to ensure that we have a safety net that is efficient, that does not lead to people to having benefits delays that lead them to food banks. Instead of cash, we could hand out vouchers that allow those on benefits to receive a decent diet from their local supermarket, as well as other essentials they need to buy for family. In terms of how we give out welfare, we must ensure that it is more profitable to work than to receive welfare, but also must ensure that it can be difficult to obtain a job and that not every person is physically or mentally well enough to learn a living. We must be firm to some, but fair to others.


  1. [Regarding Education] ‘I think it has to do with equality…mine is to raise standards.’

Simply put, we cannot let schools fail. We cannot let pupils leave primary school without being able to read or write at a satisfactory level. We cannot let pupils leave secondary school without the necessarily qualifications for the next stage in their life.

Firstly, we must address that not all students have the same start in life. Statistically, lower income white males are one of the most unlikely socio-economic groups to go to university. That is not to say that every one of them will want to attend university- some will take the equally excellent route of apprenticeships or employment, but they must have a fair chance. As stated earlier, giving these students a choice of educational establishments- grammar, private, state or technological will allow them the best route into their chosen field. In terms of grammar schools, we must allow them to build up in deprived areas so that those who are genuinely intelligent have as equal chance as those who can afford a tutor.

We also must let teachers do their job: they must teach. We have an unrealistically high expectation of teachers, expecting them to jump through hoops. The Conservatives must dismantle the targets, and stop expecting teachers to jump through hoops. If all teachers do is file paperwork, they will not be able to educate the citizens of tomorrow. They must be free to do that they spent years of education doing.

Students should be able to do basic maths. Students should be able to do their times tables without hesitating, be able to differentiate between there and their without a single thought etc. We must not allow children to leave school without having in general knowledge. The Conservatives must ensure that every child will be able to enter society as adults who can successfully navigate the world.

Whether they start a job or attend university, their chosen path must include a journey that prepares them for all they need.


  1. ‘In our attempt to make education ‘fun,’ we have neglected the academic discipline that develop sound minds and are conductive to sound characters.’

Schools should not just be factories where pupils file in and out as if they’re in a Pink Floyd video, but we must not cater too much to pupils. At the end of the day, whilst we want them to enjoy school, they’re at school, not Alton Towers.

By bowing to children, we do not give them discipline. Many of us will remember at least one child in our class who was naughty or a little disruptive at best, or completely out of control at worst. Constantly, teachers remind students that they will not be as lucky in the real world. In school, tardiness will get them letters home and detention, but in the real world, they will get terrible job references, a lack of promotion and perhaps unemployment. They will not be able to scream and yell at their bosses with the ease they do with their teachers. Teachers were often figures of respect, and they should be now.

Students must be passionate about their education. Of course, we all had particular subjects we hated- this writer despised maths and science, especially physics, but we must have pupils excited about learning about WW2, or about continuing a particular book they like in English class. That should not, however, come at the expense of becoming a valuable citizen. We must allow passionate debate to flourish, for different ideas to be bounced about classrooms, and for people to be informed students who are ready to enter the world. Students should enjoy the classroom, but also respect that they are there for an education fundamentally. A sound character is not just a robot, but a dignified individual who respects others, has an opinion and understands that others do.


  1. ‘We furnish this aid under the theory that we can buy the allegiance of foreign peoples by making them economically prosperous.’

Foreign aid, especially amongst the right of the party, is a hugely controversial issue. Some call for it to be scrapped, citing the Colombian cows and the Ethiopian ‘Spice Girls,’ whilst others believe that we have an obligation to help the poor of the world.

Fundamentally, we do not give aid out of kindness or obligation. We do it for self-benefit- we encourage the countries we help to purchase from us, and so that we can stand up on the world stage and say ‘look at us, look how helpful we are to X, Y and Z.’ Of course, very rarely would any politician see that. Current International Development Secretary Priti Patel was an outspoken figure when on the backbenches regarding international aid, and even implied that we’d be better off scrapping the department. When she was given the job, however, she became a lot less antagonistic to the department, evidently reined in by her position. Patel has already made a good start on ensuring that we combat specific issues, such as HIV/AIDS, as opposed to giving aid indiscriminately.

We give 0.7% of our GDP to foreign aid; however, some parties believe it should be much more- such as the Greens, who want it to be increased to 1%. If we must give, it should be capped, as other issues- such as education and defence, need to take precedence. Fundamentally, the current idea of giving only where needed is a sensible one. Our foremost concern should be natural disasters, where help is needed quickly. With the 2015 Nepal earthquake and 2003 Indian Ocean tsunami in mind, we should concentrate on helping those, and assisting charities such as the Red Cross who carry out the vital work. After this, we need to, as the government is doing, focus on specific issues. We need also to learn from past failures, such as giving to India. With India, we gave to a country that is rich enough to have a space programme, but was not using the aid to help its citizens, the vast majority of whom live under the poverty line.


  1. ‘Withdrawal from the United Nations is probably not the answer to these problems. For a number of reasons that course is unfeasible.’

The UN is not perfect by any means- this writer could easily set out a long article about why it is a hugely imperfect organisation that needs a lot of change. Fundamentally, Goldwater is correct- leaving it is not the right answer.

There have been huge problems with the UN over the year. In 1994, it ignored huge evidence of an impending genocide in Rwanda, and instead the world watched a huge amount of people get slaughtered in a very small amount of time. In 1995, its failures in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica allowed the tragic death of over 8,000 Bosnian males. From 2011, it has failed to transition South Sudan from a new state to a stable one, with the world’s newest country now the most fragile in the world, with a whole host of problems. The peacekeeping programmes, especially in Haiti, have been a disaster, and it has not managed to host successful peace talks for the conflict in Syria. Overall, it needs huge reform.

The UK is on the Permanent Security Council, so holds a vital position within the UN. Therefore, it must stand its ground in promoting the UK’s interests. The UN is a vessel for peace, and the UK must ensure that it helps the world whilst helping its own people. Reform from the inside is best here, and we must ensure we help fix the training wheels on the UN before it flies off on its own.


  1. [Regarding defence] ‘Such a program costs money, nut so long as the money is spent wisely, I would spend it.’

Goldwater is traditionally small government in his spending habits, but was more than willing to put money into defence programmes so that they would have an advantage in weaponry over the Soviet Union, who he was resolute and interventionist in his policies against.

Defence is something that the state needs to ensure. Just as the people should have nothing to fear from their government, they should have nothing to fear from other governments either. Though we know that most countries would never use their nuclear weapons because of the consequences, it is essential that we maintain and update Trident. If not, it’s a Mexican stand-off; nobody will dare to be the first to dismantle their nukes. In an ideal world, we would not need them, but sadly, we are not in an ideal world.

From new weaponry to technology, investment in our armed forces is essential. Most importantly, we must invest in our men and women in uniform. They are the backbone of defence, and their comfort is important, especially when they have been discharged and may suffer from mental illness and homelessness.

For them, there is no cost unworthy.

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