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The Search for Community in the Early New Right and New Left

Men now live in conditions that are less than human. -Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, 1964 At a recent conference on the life and career of Barry Goldwater, an historian described the legacy of the Republican senator and one-time presidential candidate. The scholar drew from extensive research, which included several personal interviews with the politician. But one point—the fact that Goldwater never expressed regret about his vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act—apparently evoked the consternation of one attendee, Barry Goldwater, Jr. It was a point easily confirmed by consulting biographies and other historians. Yet the senator’s son, who rose from his seat and jabbed the air with an index finger during a protracted exchange with the historian, persisted in order to make clear that his father’s opposition to the law’s public accommodations clause had been based on nothing more than a desire to protect property rights.  The clause, he argued, had threatened the ability of an individual to control his property and had thus violated a fundamental principle of free enterprise.  The senator had sought to defend that principle against its opponents, who claimed that segregation laws enabled the persistence of material inequalities.  Goldwater’s conservatism, insisted his son, had stood against a radical transformation of ideas that defined the American character–one’s identity and values.  It was a different time, the aging ex-politician finally interjected before he sat down.  As the historian began to form a response, Goldwater, visibly agitated, suddenly interjected, “I’ve never heard anybody dice someone up like that.”  In addition to awkward public moments Goldwater, Sr., at times created through his plain-spoken style, Goldwater, Jr., recalled a familiar refrain from his father’s Conscience of a Conservative. He evoked, that is, the idea of recognizing the “whole man,” the “spiritual” person—as opposed to the “material” one treated in “Liberal” discourse. Although his underlying statement, that he protested a decontextualized presentation of his father, ultimately fell flat, Goldwater, Jr., raised a legitimate question about the study of postwar conservatism, the “revival” of which the senator helped to lead: if that “new” brand of conservatism defined itself in contrast to postwar liberal consensus, how directly do scholars of the period engage the conservative meaning of “conservative”? In other words, what need for challenging that consensus did Goldwater’s conservatism fill, and how have scholars assessed that need as part of their understanding of the “conservative”?

Read the entire essay, in pdf, here:

The Search for Community in the Early New Right and New Left

See an earlier article, which was the impetus for this paper:

The Education of the New Left in Columbia, Missouri

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