Conservative Socialism: Barry Goldwater was an Environmentalist

“The question: ‘What is Conservative?’ leads on to another: ‘When will Conservatism become possible again?’ The confusion of Conservatism with Reaction arose when our political life lost its Conservative basis and was invaded by Reactionary phrase-mongering on the one side, and on the other by Revolutionary ideology, the latter ultimately gaining the upper hand. The confusion will end only when Conservatism itself has once more become Conservative. Conservatism seeks to preserve a nation’s values, both by conserving traditional values, as far as these still possess the power of growth, and by assimilating all new values which increase a nation’s vitality.”

Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Das Dritte Reich, ca. 1923

Barry Goldwater’s views on the environment didn’t have much in common with those of the present-day conservatives who are his ideological descendants. His 1970 book, The Conscience of a Majority, has half a chapter about the environment.  “Our job,” he said, “is to prevent that lush orb known as the Earth . . . from turning into a bleak and barren, dirty brown planet.”  Another quote that may surprise you: “I feel very definitely that the [Nixon] administration is absolutely correct in cracking down on companies and corporations and municipalities that continue to pollute the nation’s air and water.”

Goldwater was willing to contemplate some major societal changes in order to protect the environment. Here were some of the questions that, he said, confronted us:

Dan Farber, “Barry Goldwater, Environmentalist,” ca. 2016

“Whether man will be able to curb his taste for material luxury?”

“Will man bring himself to accept a substitute for the internal combustion engine, if that proves necessary, or at least a more expensive, less efficient fuel?”

“Will man be willing to restrict the consumption of electrical power until a safe and non-polluting source of production can be found?”

“Whether YOU view the future as the next two hundred years or the three decades separating us from the 21st century; whether YOU see the future as a period of tremendous promise or a period of tremendous peril—the one thing that will transcend all other considerations is the element of challenge.”

-Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Majority, ca. 1970

Categories: Politics

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