John Dean says that Goldwater is known for his ability to define conservatism, a task that is far more illusive than some might imagine. Goldwater became a student of Robert Taft and Herbert Hoover, two of the more well known conservatives of the 1920's and 1930's, and then began to articulate the foundations of conservatism for Dean's generation and beyond. On page 17 of Conservatives Without Conscience, John Dean writes of Goldwater:
He defined conservatism as the belief that "the solutions to the problems of today can be found in the proven values of the past." As for the conscience of the conservative, he wrote that it was "pricked by anyone who would debase the dignity of the individual human being."
Dean said Goldwater later told him he should have written that the conservative conscience was 'pricked by anyone or any action that debases human dignity." And for the true conservative, human dignity is found in the Declaration's phrase, 'All men are created equal . . . "
"Politics is the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order," Goldwater wrote in The Conscience of the Conservative, "and the conservative's first concern will always be: Are we maximizing freedom?"
John Dean's thesis is his book Conservatives Without a Conscience is that since the early 1990's an authoritarian conservatism has infiltrated American politics. Rather than maximizing freedom, authoritarians demand conformity in all nuances of ideology. When fellow conservatives refuse to tow the line, the authoritians go into 'attack' mode and will use all means, both foul and fair, to bring down 'the enemy.' These authoritian conservatives are so sure that they are not only right, but holy and pure, that they are bursting with indignation and a desire to smite down their enemies.
Dean says that conservatives hyperventilating about liberalism is surprising, because it is so unnecessary. Liberalism is a straw man conservatives love to attack, in fact, there are not enough liberals to be a true threat to conservatism. A recent Harris Poll found that only eighteen percent of Americans called themselves liberals. In truth, says Dean, conservatives attack liberals, or those they label or perceive as liberal as a means to rally the troops. The exaggerated hostility also apparantly satisfies a psychological need for antagonism toward the 'out group.'
I am not through reading John Dean's book, and I am not necessarily saying I agree with everything that he writes, because I don't, but I have read enough to know that there seems to be a striking parallel between the American political landscape in the last fifteen years to that of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"Conservative governance within the agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention is the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for autonomous churches that is consistent with the fundamentals of the gospel of Christ and Baptist distinctives as we cooperate for the purpose of missions. The question that every true conservative Southern Baptist should ask is: Are we maximizing this freedom?" Wade Burleson
Think about it.