Ellen Herman

Department of History, University of Oregon


Reading and Discussion Questions
Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative

1. Did you know anything about Barry Goldwater before opening this book? If so, what?

2. What two specific sources of authority does Goldwater identify in his foreword as the basis for conservative principles? How would you characterize them? What makes them significant?

3. Who does Goldwater blame for the political triumph of liberalism and the New Deal? Do you agree with his view that “America is fundamentally a Conservative nation”? Why or why not?

4. Goldwater believes that conservatism and socialism rest on different conceptions of human nature. What are these?

5. What goal does the conservative conscience prize above all?

6. The Constitution exists for one overarching purpose, according to Goldwater. What is it and why is it so important?

7. What is the first duty of public and elected officials?

8. “I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.” Explain.

9. When Goldwater uses the term “states’ rights,” what does he mean?

10. What is his position on the Jim Crow (i.e. segregation) laws prevalent in Southern States?

11. How does Goldwater define “civil rights”?

12. What is Goldwater’s position on integrated schools and on the 1954 Brown decision? Considering his stated opposition to segregation, what do you think of his argument?

13. How would Goldwater change the program of federal agricultural subsidies? Why?

14. Goldwater believes that “union shops” and political advocacy within the labor movement violate freedom even though unions serve important economic purposes. What do you think?

15. Why does Goldwater associate taxation with socialism? What kind of tax system does he favor, and why? Why does he identify graduated taxes as “confiscatory”? What do you think?

16. Goldwater writes that an egalitarian society is “an objective that does violence both to the charter of the Republic and the laws of Nature. We are all equal in the eyes of God but we are equal in no other respect.” Explain his point of view, and think about your own.

17. Why does Goldwater consider the welfare state more dangerous in the United States than either communism or socialism?

18. What alternatives does he propose to federal spending on social welfare? What role does he think the federal government should play in education?

19. Why is the Soviet threat so serious? Why does Goldwater think the U.S. is losing the Cold War, and what must the country do in order to win it? Why isn’t foreign aid a legitimate tool of foreign policy? What is Goldwater’s position on nuclear disarmament and test bans? What is his objection to the United Nations? Do you think his positions on these subjects are consistent with the rest of his conservative philosophy?

20. If Goldwater were alive today, do you think he would fit comfortably into the Republican Party? Why or why not? Can you think of any conservative leaders today who define conservatism as Goldwater did?