May 28, 2007


A Foreign Policy for America (Roger Kimball, 5/28/07, Real Clear Politics)

A friend recently passed along a 5000-word essay by Senator Barry Goldwater called "A Foreign Policy for America." This remarkable work, which appeared in March, 1961 in National Review, is instructive on many levels. I was impressed not only by the substance of the essay--its sober appreciation of the realities of human interplay on the stage of foreign affairs--but also by its tone. The word is out of fashion, I know, but no other term will do: Senator Goldwater's essay exhibits a manly tone, his sober insights are expressed in a sober, virile manner. This is a serious man writing seriously about a most serious subject.

You might think that an essay written in 1961 would, in mid-2007, be little more than an historical curiosity, a sepia-tinged memento from a bygone era. After all, Goldwater was writing at the height of the Cold War: John F. Kennedy had only recently taken office, most people hadn't even heard of Vietnam, Ronald Reagan was a B-list movie actor, Islam was a curiosity, not a threat, and the new wall separating East from West Berlin seemed as impermeable as the Soviet Union itself.

How different the world looks today! As different, I suppose, as the world in 1961 seemed in comparison with the world of 1914--forty six years encompasses a deal of change. But the curious thing about Senator Goldwater's reflection is not how dated but how pertinent it seems. Substitute the phrase "radical Islam" for "Communist," make allowances for a few other anachronisms, and "A Foreign Policy for America" could as well have been written today as in 1961. This is partly because of the clear-eyed view of human nature that informs the essay. The "ultimate objective" of American foreign policy, Goldwater argues, is to foster the largest measure possible of peace, freedom, and economic prosperity around the world, but especially in the United State. The qualification "largest possible measure" is critical, he explains, "because any person who supposes that these conditions can be universally and perfectly achieved--ever--reckons without the inherent imperfectability of himself and his fellow human beings, and is therefore a dangerous man to have around."

That last phrase is a good indication of Goldwater's anthropological maturity--and his political wisdom.

As pivotal as Barry Goldwater was in giving wide public voice to the ideas of the conservative movement, he was a rather notorious mental lightweight, hand selected by Bill Buckley and Brent Bozell to be a mouthpiece. The wisdom of his writings in that period was generally Bozell's and in his latter years, having outlived his usefulness, he lurched into unwise libertarianism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 28, 2007 7:43 AM

Goldwater was borked before we even knew what it meant.

Posted by: erp at May 28, 2007 8:52 AM


Check out Rick Perlstein's book for information about the outrageous smear campaign Cronkite ran against him. Of course, back then the absence of the Internet and Fox News made it harder to challenge the guardians of approved wisdom.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 28, 2007 10:55 PM