Liberty and Justice

Barry Goldwater long ago ceased to be a hero of mine after the revelation that back in the fifties he had paid for an abortion for one of his daughters and his open embrace of abortion after his retirement.  However, he was certainly a hero of mine as I watched the Republican convention in 1964 on television at the age of seven.  I do not recall his speech, but I do recall watching every minute of the convention with rapt attention.  Goldwater’s acceptance speech was not a great speech, Goldwater admitting himself that he was no great orator.  It will always be remembered for two phrases:  extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

Harry Jaffa, perhaps the foremost expert on the political thought of Abraham Lincoln, wrote the phrases for Goldwater, although Goldwater, bizarrely, claimed that the phrases were written by Cicero when the lines came under attack.  Jaffa recalls helping to write the speech:

I wrote that statement, in part, as a repudiation of the critique of extremism that was made by Rockefeller and Scranton witnesses before the [platform] committee. Sometimes these things get out of hand.  They are like letters you do not intend to send.  But they blow out the window and somebody picks them up and they are delivered.  And this one was delivered to the Senator, who fell in love with it and ordered that it be incorporated in his Acceptance Speech, and it led to my becoming the principal drafter of the speech.  And, there it was.  It was not my political judgment that the thing be used in the speech at all, although I must say that I was flattered at the time and didn’t think too much of what the consequences would be. . .  The Senator liked it because he had been goaded by mean-spirited attacks through the long months of the primaries.  Nothing in the political history of the country surpasses in fundamental indecency the kind of attacks that were made on Goldwater by Nelson Rockefeller and his followers. . .  But I was not asked for the extremism statement; I had written it as an in-house memorandum, and it was appropriated.  I’m not making an excuse for myself in saying I wasn’t responsible for it.  I was certainly enthusiastically in favor of it at the time.

What I find interesting looking back on the speech is how Goldwater saw no contradiction between liberty and justice.  Of course, since his time cries for justice are usually associated with demands for expansion of the State to address some perceived evil.  However, that is a modern superstition and not an essential attribute of justice.  Without justice, liberty descends rapidly into license and eventually jungle law, rule of the strong.  Without liberty, justice becomes whatever those who control the State says that it is.  Societies that scant on either liberty or justice soon have precious little of either.  The Pledge of Allegiance is on target when it closes with the admonition:  “with liberty and justice for all.”


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  1. I was in high svchoool then. A teacher once stated that the root causes to all contemporary issues could be found in two historical “items”: the Industrial Revolution and E = MC squared.

    Just saying. I think moderation in the pursuit of virtue is a vice.

    Anyhow, I was fourteen. The Vietnam War was small news. I remember from the typically dishonest LBJ dem campaign the clip of the little girl with the flowers and the nuke.

    Then, LBJ et al (for nothing based on the defeat in May 1975) killed 58,000 of the flower of American youth and over a million Vietnamese . . .

    The concept of “Justice” has been co-opted and subverted by collectivists, progressives and statists and it is serially emplyed to gull the envious, ignorant and wrathful along with a never-ending series fabricated crises.

    John Stuart Mill. On Liberty, “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”

    The so-called income redistribution crisis keeps making the rounds. Until the 1970’s, economists would think in terms of economic growth and development. Now, they’fve defaulted to the dull and illogical. Raise taxes on the rich: te liberal answer to every question.

  2. The only thing your high school teacher left off that list was evolution/natural selection. But, two out of three ain’t bad, as they say.

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