Then: statesmen. Now: career politicians.
I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ “interests”, I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.
Barry Goldwater, of course, whose 1964 defeat-by-smearjob qualifies as possibly the most damaging missed opportunity this poor country ever inflicted on itself. He was a fount of pithy, memorable quotations, some of them expressing viewpoints that might not always be quite what one would expect. For instance:
Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.
You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.
It’s not at all difficult to find more in that unexpected vein, which still doesn’t detract from the good stuff:
A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.
Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism. Fellow Republicans, it is the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power, private or public, which enforce such conformity and inflict such despotism. It is the cause of Republicanism to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people.
I feel certain that Conservatism is through unless Conservatives can demonstrate and communicate the difference between being concerned with [the unemployed, the sick without medical care, human welfare, etc.] and believing that the federal government is the proper agent for their solution.
The material and spiritual sides of man are intertwined; that it is impossible for the State to assume responsibility for one without intruding on the essential nature of the other; that if we take from a man the personal responsibility for caring for his material needs, we take from him also the will and the opportunity to be free.
Such, then, is history’s lesson, which Messrs. Acheson and Larson evidently did not read: release the holders of state power from any restraints other than those they wish to impose upon themselves, and you are swinging down the well-traveled road to absolutism. The framers of the Constitution had learned the lesson. They were not only students of history, but victims of it: they knew from vivid, personal experience that freedom depends on effective restraints against the accumulation of power in a single authority.
Most important of all: in our anxiety to “improve” the world and insure “progress” we have permitted our schools to become laboratories for social and economic change according to the predilections of the professional educators. We have forgotten that the proper function of the school is to transmit the cultural heritage of one generation to the next generation, and to so train the minds of the new generation as to make them capable of absorbing ancient learning and applying it to the problem of its own day.
As the public grows more and more cynical, the politician feels less and less compelled to take his promises seriously.
The Conservative also recognizes that the political power on which order is based is a self-aggrandizing force; that its appetite grows with eating. He knows that the utmost vigilance and care are required to keep political power within its proper bounds.
One of the last of the real-deal conservative statesmen, Goldwater never did make it to the White House. And now, no true conservative ever will again. GP hints at one of the reasons why.
Remember the good old days when we could have serious discussions about the constitutional limits of government, and if the myriad government programs we have put in place actually met the constitutional requirement? And how much we would be able to reduce the size and scope of government, and how the first priority of the government was to protect the freedoms and liberty of American citizens?
Yeah, me neither. That is to say, I would dearly like to get back to the point where we could talk about things like this, but we are far beyond this. In fact, we are not even within shouting distance of it. Our disagreements with progressives are not over the size and scope of government, but down lower, way lower, down at some basic, fundamental level where questions about the very nature of men and things must be resolved.
Well, that and them wanting us dead. That has to be resolved, too.
Oh, it will be…one way or another. As it happens, another visionary leader had a few words to say himself on the topic.
If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.
The frightening is that nowadays one can only wonder just how many of us are left who would agree with that last proposition.