flwyd: (1895 USA map)
The Conscience of a Conservative, Senator Barry Goldwater's 1960 slim volume (ghostwritten by L. Brett Bozell, Jr.) advocating for conservative values, had more impact on right-wing and Republican politics in postwar America than any book besides The Bible and, perhaps, Atlas Shrugged. I sought the book out because I wanted to understand where conservatives are coming from and be able to have more productive political conversations. Since my political thinking operates with a different set of frames I was expecting to disagree with a lot of what Goldwater wrote, and I did. My focus in this review is therefore not to critique the book but to characterize it and highlight its arguments.

The book is an easy read. It's short and readable in an afternoon. My 50th anniversary copy, with foreword (George F. Will) and afterword (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) is 137 pages of roughly mass-market paperback size. It is not a work of technical political theory and is thus accessible to almost any American adult. It takes a personal and casual tone, clearly the broad appeal words of a politician and not the jargon of an academic. I think this accessibility is at least as important to the book's success in the conservative movement as any specific policy idea expressed in its pages.
The book starts with a few chapters on general principles followed by several chapters applying those principles to specific domestic issues that were prominent in the late 1950s.

Goldwater argues for Conservatism in opposition to Socialism and also in opposition to Liberalism and the (then-ascendant) moderate wing of the Republican Party. He starts by quoting Vice President Nixon, Republican candidates should be economic conservatives, but conservatives with a heart, and President Eisenhower, I am conservative when it comes to economic problems but liberal when it comes to human problems. Goldwater is conservative on both fronts and emphasizes that Conservatism isn't just about economics: The Conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man's nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Growing up in an Arizona which had recently gained statehood and in which the wild west didn't seem so long ago, it's not surprising that the focus of Goldwater's philosophy is individual freedom. Man's most sacred possession is his individual soul—which has an immortal side, but also a mortal one. The mortal side establishes his absolute differentness from every other human being. Only a philosophy that takes into account the essential differences between men, and, accordingly, makes provision for developing the different potentialities of each man can claim to be in accord with Nature. We have heard much in the time about “the common man.” It is a concept that pays little attention to the history of a nation that grew great through the initiative and ambition of uncommon men. The Conservative knows that to regard man as part of an undifferentiated mass is to consign him to ultimate slavery. (Despite this emphasis on spirit and soul, Goldwater did not want the church to be actively involved in politics and he did not like the rise of the Religious Right.)

Goldwater's political framework is focused on the Constitution and a limited federal government. While some people's political approach is to devise a solution to a problem first and then shape it to match the law, one gets the sense that Goldwater would prefer to start with what's constitutional and then work out a solution which is permitted. In the way that some folks on the right treat the Second Amendment as the most important while some on the left elevate the First, the Tenth Amendment is, I think, most fundamental for Goldwater. (The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.) Goldwater objects to several federal programs not because they're bad policies but because he thinks the states should implement them, with structure and prioritization driven by local voters and legislators, not a nationwide legislature and bureaucracy. He argues against federal involvement in education because the Constitution doesn't grant any federal powers over education, thus leaving the subject up to states. Yet if there were a constitutional amendment in place regarding education, Goldwater would seem to have no objection to the execution of it.

Many on the left, citing rhetoric of the Confederate and Jim Crow South, characterize the phrase “states’ rights” as an innocuous phrase meant to mask an underlying policy of racial discrimination. Goldwater acknowledges this perception, writing It is quite true that the integration issue is affected by the State's Rights principle, and that the South's position on the issue is, today, the most conspicuous expression of the principle. So much so that the country is now in the grips of a spirited and sometimes ugly controversy over an imagined conflict between State's Rights, on the one hand, and what are called “civil rights” on the other. He goes on to argue that civil rights are not universal rights granted by virtue of our humanity but rather a right defined in law: Unless a right is incorporated in the law, it is not a civil right and is not enforceable by the instruments of the civil law. There may be some rights—“natural,” “human,” or otherwise—that should also be civil rights. But if we desire to give such rights the protection of the law, our recourse is to a legislature or to the amendment procedures of the Constitution. We must not look to politicians, or sociologists—or the courts—to correct the deficiency. Goldwater was not a racist, and although he spends much of the chapter on civil rights arguing against federal efforts to desegregate schools and questioning the legitimacy of the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, he speaks in favor of the principle of desegregation.

In a political world following Goldwater's philosophy, one might expect a great many constitutional amendments be proposed. (He argues against high tax brackets, for instance, but not against income tax itself, since that power is granted by the Sixteenth Amendment.) Addressing an issue like education, air pollution, or Internet crime would start by passage of an amendment granting federal jurisdiction on the matter. Yet amending the Constitution is hard, and in the half century since The Conscience of a Conservative was published, the Constitution was only amended five times—thrice regarding voting rights, once regarding presidential succession, and once regarding congressional compensation. Only the latter came after Ronald Reagan and Goldwater's intellectual heirs took power in Washington (and that one was proposed with the initial Bill of Rights). Many more amendments have, of course, been proposed but not passed in Congress—depending on one's perspective, this might speak in favor of or against an amend-first model.

Reading the book after it influenced half a century of politics provides an interesting sense of retrospective. For instance, a book written today wouldn't focus so much on the power of unions, yet it is precisely this book's arguments about unions which provided the framework for the legislation that weakened union power. Goldwater's arguments reverberate through contemporary conservatives: reading Goldwater's complaints about depression-era laws paying farmers to not grow crops (and thus avoid a market crash) reminded me of several folks I've heard rail against the same practice, even though it was ended by the 1996 Farm Bill.

Unfortunately, some of Goldwater's advice was not heeded by conservatives. He ends the “Freedom for Labor” chapter by saying Let us henceforth make war on all monopolies—whether corporate or union. The enemy of freedom is unrestrained power, and the champions of freedom will fight against the concentration of power wherever they find it. The Republicans who came to power with the help of Goldwater's rhetoric duly set about disarming the power of labor unions, yet they simultaneously enacted policies to boost the power of capital and corporations. Conservative-championed deregulation has led to a handful of companies controlling most broadcast and publishing media outlets, granting significant power and control of information to corporations. And despite the breakup of Ma Bell in the mid-80s, many consumers have no choice over telecommunications providers and the companies wield near-monopolistic power (Comcast revenues exceed every state government but California).

Goldwater's recommendations in “Taxes and Spending” were likewise only followed half-way. Goldwater wanted to reduce taxes by cutting back on federal programs: The government must begin to withdraw from a whole series of programs that are outside its constitutional mandate—from social welfare programs, education, public power, agriculture, public housing, urban renewal and all the other activities that can be better performed by lower levels of government or by private institutions or by individuals. I do not suggest that the federal government drop all of these programs overnight. But I do suggest that we establish, by law, a rigid timetable for a staged withdrawal. Yet the oft repeated mantra of today's Republican party is Reagan taught us that deficits don't matter, and Republicans have tended to propose tax cuts without spending cuts, program elimination without reducing taxes, and spending increases (particularly for military expenditure) without corresponding tax increases. While academic fiscal conservatives decry these policies, the party doesn't seem to care: tax cuts are a good way to get elected and eliminating popular programs are a good way to get voted out of office.

Goldwater's last chapter, “The Soviet Menace,” consumes the final third of the book and feels the most incongruous with the modern world. Goldwater begins in no uncertain terms: And still the awful truth remains: We can establish the domestic conditions for maximizing freedom, along the lines I have indicated, and yet become slaves. We can do this by losing the Cold War to the Soviet Union. He rails against the policies then in place to combat the USSR, from NATO and the UN to negotiation and diplomacy to foreign aid. He proposed instead an offensive (and quite so) strategy, The key guidepost is the Objective, and we must never lose sight of it. It is not to wage a struggle against Communism, but to win it. He proposed development and use of “small, clean nuclear weapons.” Recalling his fiscal conservatism, he writes As a Conservative, I deplore the huge tax levy that is needed to finance the world's number-one military establishment. But even more do I deplore the prospect of a foreign conquest, which the absence of that establishment would quickly accomplish. One wonders if he would similarly quiet his objections to spending on social programs if it were presented as a choice between liberal welfare or the election of an American communist or socialist party to congress. Goldwater's commitment to conservative constitutional law was also conspicuously absent from this chapter: socialist regimes generally installed a new constitution and American support for anti-socialist rebels would presumably violate the laws under which they found themselves.

While the flashpoints, proxy wars, and immense military buildups that characterized the Cold War definitely bore Goldwater's influence, the mechanism of victory fortunately took a significantly different tack than Goldwater's plan. He writes We may not make foreign peoples love us—no nation has ever succeeded in that—but we can make them respect us. And respect is the stuff of which enduring friendships and firm alliances are made. Yet despite the trillions of dollars spent on military hardware, the Socialist states collapsed not because of a respect-as-fear of U.S. power and might but thanks to a love-as-admiration we were able to foster in the people. While leaders threatened each other with weapons, support for the state was whittled away rock 'n' roll, hip young people, material comforts, and the gradual awareness that there was a world where grocery stores were always full of food.

The Conscience of a Conservative deserves a place in collections of key American documents, alongside The Federalist Papers and the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Like the others it took relatively few words to influence generations of political action and government policy. Many on the left believe its ideas were taken too far; many on the right that they weren't taken far enough. But taken they certainly were, and they continue to frame contemporary discourse.
flwyd: (1895 Colorado map)
Someone on a local games day list asked why rent in South Boulder is so expensive and why the roads are so wide and the yards so big. Cribbing from Boulder History Museum's timeline and 35 years of stories from my dad and others, here's some background.

Boulder's population more than trebled from 1950 to 1970, driven in part by easier access[1], good science/engineering jobs[2], and post-war suburban boom that visited most of the country. Martin Acres was the first large-scale cookie-cutter housing development in Boulder, with a lot of cheap modest houses[3].

Development of the Table Mesa subdivision (which includes Emerson) occurred in the mid-60s[4] at the base of the fancy new NCAR. With several other high-tech employers in the south part of town[5] and a booming economy, the Table Mesa neighborhood targeted well-paid professionals with families, leading to the ubiquitous 2-level with a two car garage, a porch, and a big yard.

While the Blue Line policy restricting housing development on the mountain sides was introduced in 1959 and the city started buying open space in 1967, most of Boulder's growth-restrictive policies didn't start until the 1970s. By then Boulder was one of the national centers of environmentalist culture and had begun attracting recreational and outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to environmental concerns, growth restrictions play to the advantage of existing homeowners (who are also, not coincidentally, the primary electorate). By preserving open space and limiting housing construction, market value for existing houses goes up on account of demand outpacing supply and the house having a nice view and convenient outdoor recreation.

Boulder has continued limited growth policies for the last 40 years, but has only really been concerned about soaring housing prices for the last 20 or so[6] and they've only gotten serious about density in perhaps the last 15 years. These days there seems to be wide support for dense (but not tall) housing and New Urbanism ideas like mixed use development. Yet with a greenbelt of permanent open space, transitioning to this model is slow. There aren't many places one could build a new subdivision on these principles. And even single family houses which get bought and torn down usually get replaced by a much larger, fancier single family house rather than a multi-family dwelling.

So why are rents in Boulder so high? Demand greatly exceeds supply and there are social limits to increasing supply. Why is demand so high, even at high prices? Boulder's one of the most enjoyable places in the country to live for certain sets of people, including professionals (who can often afford Boulder housing prices) and students (who can include rent in their student loans). And part of the reason that Boulder is an attractive place to live are the restrictions on growth. The construction-focused policies of Denver's suburbs has resulted in a lot of houses which are pleasant as dwellings but hasn't led to any communities as attractive as Boulder, let alone Boulder's geographic perks.

[1] My grandfather told my dad that the vote he was most proud of from his time in the Colorado Legislature was the Denver-Boulder Turnpike, which opened in 1952.
[2] NIST (then the National Bureau of Standards) and Rocky Flats were opened in the early '50s; Beech Aircraft and Ball Aerospace in the mid-late '50s; NCAR in the early 1960s.
[3] http://boulderthistory.org/timeline.asp says you could get a home loan in Martin Acres for $700 down in 1950.
[4] My dad's family moved into a brand new house on Carnegie Drive in 1963. My dad said they could've gotten a better deal elsewhere, but his mom wanted a brand new house so she wouldn't have to clean it before moving in, a luxury she'd longed for in the Army.
[5] IBM's presence on the Diagonal starting in the mid-60s is a fantastic example of "Of course everyone will drive to work."
[6] My parents paid $80,000 cash for a 4-bedroom house in 1980. In the late '90s, houses in our neighborhood were selling for $400,000.
[Bonus footnote] Boulder was a dry town from 1907 to 1967, so the British ideal of a pub in every neighborhood was illegal when most Boulder subdivisions were built.
flwyd: (Om Chomsky)
The Pope made a speech to the Queen of England which could be interpreted as comparing atheists to Nazis.
As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny.

I leave open the question of whether Pope Benedict XVI prefers the sobering lessons of religious extremism from the 16th and 17th Centuries. It's true that many of the violent extremists of the 20th Century were explicitly atheistic: Stalin and other Soviets, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the Khmer Rouge. But many other violent extremists were religious, even if their target selection wasn't motivated by religion. U.S. segregationists and South African apartheid advocates, conflicts in Rwanda, Guatemala, Vietnam... World Wars I and II were not about religion, but aside from the Soviets, all the major players were at least nominally religious. And regardless of the private views of Nazi leaders, their extremist persecutions were largely ethnic and social, not religious: being a nonpracticing Jew didn't buy reprieve, nor did they distinguish between Christian and atheist homosexuals.

Leonard Shlain wrote something interesting in The Alphabet vs. The Goddess: the conflicts between communism/socialism and capitalism in 19th and 20th Century Europe can be seen as a new phase in the continent's history of religious warfare. The communists don't believe in God, but they have religious texts (Das Kapital, for instance), prophets, and a sometimes-violent fervor based on a set of ideas.

So far the 21st Century has provided one major ideological conflict: Wahhabists and other extremist Islamic groups in a decentralized fight against imperialism and secular and insufficiently-religious governments. And there are conflicts which mix nationalism with religion that have spilled over from the last century: Israelis and Palestinians in the near east and Muslims and Hindus in Pakistani/Indian border lands. But the bloodiest conflicts, in eastern Congo and southern Sudan, are about concerns much older than religious conflict: land and resources. And as the world population grows and the climate gets more volatile, these sorts of conflicts can only be expected to spring up more often. The important thing isn't what the folks involved believe, it's what they have and what they want.

11/11 11:11

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 11:11 am
flwyd: (rose silhouette)
91 years ago today, peace was declared in Europe. The war to end all wars left an unstable continent that fell in to war again two decades later.

20 years ago this week, the Berlin Wall, the most tangible piece of the Iron Curtain, was declared open. Although Eastern Europe's transition into capitalism and democracy has not been free of pain and strife, dictators and warmongers have little traction there.

America and its allies, primarily European, are today at war in Asia, in places outsiders have been at war in recent memory. If we do things right, hopefully Iraq's and Afghanistan's next two decades can be like Europe's in the last 20 years, not like Europe's in the 20 years after World War I. If we do (more) things wrong, we may be back for thirds.

Peace takes time. Peace takes work. Peace is worth it.
flwyd: (step to the moon be careful)
At 9:40 a.m. on Saturday, July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber, piloted in thick fog by Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith, Jr., accidentally crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 79th and 80th floors, where the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Council were located. One engine shot through the side opposite the impact and fell on a nearby building; the other plummeted down an elevator shaft. The resulting fire was extinguished in 40 minutes. Fourteen people were killed in the incident. Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories inside an elevator, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall recorded. Despite the damage and loss of life, the building was open for business on many floors on the following Monday.
-- Wikipedia

I wonder why I never heard this mentioned after the September 11, 2001 attacks. I guess the analogies to Pearl Harbor (where enemy planes hit a U.S. landmark) were more resonant than this incident where a U.S. Army plane hit a New York landmark.
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
"Hello, I'd like to make a reservation. The name's Jackson. Andrew Jackson."
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