I ran cross the video June 2016 Firing Line Compilation for Hoover's Summer Series and starting at 02:42 there is an exchange between the host William F. Buckley Jr. and the guest Barry Goldwater in 1966, just after serving two terms as Senator from Arizona.

Here's my transcription of the exchange:

BUCKLEY: Senator Goldwater is both a Republican and a conservative, terms which he has not found or at least not yet found to be mutually exclusive.

GOLDWATER: And I might say Bill this is my chief worry as a conservative, that we have put so much power in the office of the presidency that some day, the wrong man could come along, and I wouldn’t be so concerned about whether he could use these powers to perpetuate himself in office, but how he would use these powers to destroy people that disagreed with him, to pile up voters where voters don’ usually pile up.

I think Johnson is fully aware of the powers that he has, and he certainly has used them and will use them.

I've found the full interview here.

Considering the activities of president Nixon ten years later and some more recent events, this concern is remarkably prescient.

Question: Goldwater says "this is my chief worry as a conservative". Did he expand on this elsewhere? Did this concern about a president's "use (of) these powers to destroy people that disagreed with him" have substantial context or did it arise only at the time, possibly in relation to then president Lyndon B. Johnson?

  • 2
    And any person with power -- a president, a governor, a mayor, a CEO, etc, -- can create mischief with the power they have. The more power they have, the more pain and suffering they can create. There is nothing revealing or uniquely insightful in Goldwater's remark. Feb 9 '20 at 15:06
  • @Michael_B you're familliar with Goldwater's writings and positions, or are you drawing those conclusions from just these remarks? What is it exactly that makes it clear to you? "Has he elaborated on this concern elsewhere?"
    – uhoh
    Feb 9 '20 at 16:07
  • By "this concern" you mean theoretically (again) or targeting a specific person?
    – Fizz
    Feb 9 '20 at 17:35
  • 1
    Perhaps you can reword the question to ask whether Goldwater made other statements in other contexts that shed light on his position, instead of asking about his internal motivation. That should allow the question to remain open.
    – phoog
    Feb 11 '20 at 19:24
  • 1
    @uhoh sorry, I don't have time to review it just now, but I did notice that the title question does not currently make sense ("Has Barry Goldwater been referring to in this Firing Line clip from 1966?").
    – phoog
    Feb 11 '20 at 23:36

Goldwater was from that now nearly extinct paradigm of intellectual conservatism, and he's clearly citing foundational principles: concerns that have been passed down to us from Madison, Hamilton, and the other founders. The fear that the executive branch might accumulate too much power and use it irrationally, maliciously, or vindictively is nothing but the fear of tyranny that runs through the Federalist Papers and informs so much of US Constitutional structures. Clearly Goldwater thinks that President Johnson is over-using his powers of office — though he stops short of accusing him of misusing those powers — but from the rest of his interview it's clear that Goldwater is more concerned that the 'Liberals' of his day are moving too quickly to implement institutional changes, and he primarily wants to slow down the process of change so that each step can be thoroughly examined. Goldwater seems less concerned about actual tyranny from the executive branch than he is about the intrusion of Federal power into the fabric of social life.

That is a classical conservative worldview, though I suspect in Goldwater's case there's a degree of disingenuousness in it. For example, a bit later in the discussion Goldwater bemoans the fact that leaders of the (era-appropriate term) Negro community had not come and talked with him what they really wanted, despite the fact that this interview was at the height of the Civil Rights movement when black leaders were doing little else except saying what they wanted. Though of course, that could just be selective hearing on his part...

It's fascinating to compare the conservatism of that day and that paradigm with the dominant form of US conservatism that exists now. As noted, that intellectual form has almost entirely disappeared, being replaced by a deeply ideological conservatism. Moreover, the focus has shifted from slowing and steadying the process of change — which is the typical hallmark of conservatism — to disrupting and destroying the institutions that have been developed over the last sixty or seventy years. It's a depressing degradation.

  • Thanks for your helpful answer! Goldwater is a fascinating character, I'm going to have to read further. It's also good that you were able to squeeze it in before the question-closers could block answers from being posted.
    – uhoh
    Feb 9 '20 at 22:21
  • I've adjusted the wording of the question in response to comments and to assist in reopening, I think there is still a good fit with your answer.
    – uhoh
    Feb 11 '20 at 23:14

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