Extremism in the defense of liberty is still no vice

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." —Barry Goldwater

The 50th anniversary of Barry Goldwater's clarion call for liberty acceptance speech for the Republican nomination passed this week. In a modern world where politicians talk, but their words are hollow, listening to Goldwater's message a half a century later is like a drink of fresh water.

But the words were no less scary to politicians less than a year from President Kennedy's assassination. The establishment Republicans, then known as Rockefeller Republicans, played the same cozy games with their Democratic masters as the establishment Republican class does today with crony capitalist beneficiaries of big government.

ADVERTISEMENT
Ten years after Goldwater's nomination speech, this author defended the premise that Goldwater was great to a skeptical junior class at Norco High School which served as judge and jury. Other presenters had chosen much less serious topics (for instance, Bigfoot was found to be great by the class), but none created the stir and controversy that the proposition that Goldwater was great received.

In an unprecedented move, the teacher had kids from other classes attend the argument, prepared and called upon to ask questions damning the man.

The battle lines from my perspective were over a simple idea. What is the essence of greatness?

The proposition of Goldwater's greatness wasn't over his ideas or any articulation of freedom, although it was those exact things that caused the uproar.

No, Goldwater's ideas were not on trial; instead it was the very concept that a man standing up for his beliefs without apology or compromise is heroic and great simply due to this clear-eyed piercing of the veil of big government political conformity that was in dispute.

I'd like to report that my 11th grade class was so overwhelmed by my eloquence that they deemed someone willing to sacrifice power to remain true to his beliefs as being great, but they didn't. My A on the assignment and class was little comfort when I somehow failed to ignite the vision of my fellow students to hold a political quest that was temporarily defeated at the polls (it was still six years until Reagan was elected president) as being great.

The abstract of standing and fighting for freedom against insurmountable odds, never backing down, giving no quarter in spite of the temptation to compromise to gain political favor, was not deemed heroic by my peers.

Yet today, 50 years later, I read the 1964 Republican convention speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Calif., and I continue to be awed by Goldwater’s greatness.

I hope that my classmates get the opportunity to read or YouTube his speech now with the benefit of time and maturity, and mentally recast their votes declaring Barry Goldwater to be a great man.

A great man who refused to blanch in the face of the beginnings of the overarching welfare state. A great man who declared, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. ... [M]oderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

A man who stood up for liberty, no matter the personal cost — Barry Goldwater was a great man, whose Tea Party fruit spring from the tree of liberty he planted 50 years ago.

Manning (@rmanning957) is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government. Contact him at rmanning@getliberty.org.

More in Washington Metro News

The one and only Marion Barry

Read more »