On May 11, 1960, Sen. Goldwater wrote to AR: “I am particularly proud of the fact that you were the one to [defend my conservative position on Mike Wallace’s show], because I have enjoyed very few books in my life as much as I have yours, Atlas Shrugged.”
36 East 36th St.
New York City
June 4, 1960
The Honorable Barry Goldwater
United States Senate
Washington 25, D.C.
Dear Senator Goldwater:
Thank you for the autographed copy of THE CONSCIENCE OF A CONSERVATIVE, which you sent me, and for your letter of May 11. Please accept this answer as my method of expressing my deepest appreciation.
I regard you as the only hope of the anti-collectivist side on today’s political scene, and I have defended your position at every opportunity. Therefore, I am profoundly disturbed by some dangerous contradictions in your stand, as expressed in THE CONSCIENCE OF A CONSERVATIVE. I do not know the reason nor the extent of your intellectual commitment to these contradictions and, therefore, I am submitting the following for your consideration.
The opening sentence of your book is: “This book is not written with the idea of adding to or improving on the Conservative philosophy.” But there is no such thing as a “Conservative” philosophy. It is the lack of a philosophy that has brought the American conservatives to helplessness, vacillation and successive defeats.
You indicate that by “Conservatism” you mean the political principles of the Founding Fathers, which created this country. That is true: that is what the term “Conservative” means in America today. The principles which created this country were embodied and expressed in the political-economic system of “Free Enterprise” or “Capitalism.” But it is dangerously misleading to call these principles “ancient and tested truths.” They were new, untested and unprecedented; the great achievement of the Founding Fathers was the fact that they created a political system fundamentally different from any that had ever existed before in the whole of human history—a system based on the concept of man’s inalienable individual rights. (Philosophically, the Founding Fathers were influenced by Aristotle, via John Locke. But their own views were never extended into a full system of philosophy.)
I assume, therefore, that by “Conservative” you mean: a defender of Capitalism. That is the meaning of all the basic policies you advocate in your book; that is the meaning of the term “Conservative” in the mind of the American public: “Conservative” stands for Capitalism—as against “Liberal,” which stands for Collectivism. The conflict of today’s world is between these two political systems. Everybody knows it—but our Conservative leaders lack the courage to say it, which is the reason why they are losing the Cold War internationally and every political battle domestically, even though the overwhelming majority of the American people are, potentially, on their side. Since nobody would accuse you of lacking courage, I regard you as the man who might bring the American Conservatives back to life, by means of a clear-cut, unequivocal stand. I don’t have to tell you that if the American Conservatives do not stand for Capitalism, they’re done for.
The major contradiction in your book is between Chapter I and the rest of the book’s content. More specifically, it is between the fight for Capitalism and the issue of religion. There can be no more disastrous error—morally, philosophically and politically—than to assert that the ultimate justification of Capitalism rests on faith. To assert this, is to announce that there is no rational justification for Capitalism, no rational arguments to support the principles which created this country—and that reason is on the side of the enemy.
The Communists claim that they are the champions of reason and science. If the Conservatives concede that claim and retreat into the realm of religion, it will be an act of intellectual abdication, the kind of intellectual surrender that the Communists’ irrational ideology could never have won on its own merits.
The conflict between Capitalism and Communism is a philosophical and moral conflict, which must be fought and won in men’s minds, in the realm of ideas; without that victory, no victory in the political realm is possible. But one cannot win men’s minds by telling them not to think; one cannot win an intellectual battle by renouncing the intellect; one cannot convince anybody by appealing to faith.
Capitalism is perishing by default. The historical cause of its destruction is the failure of its philosophical advocates to present a full, consistent case and to offer a moral justification for their stand. Yet reason is on the side of Capitalism; an irrefutable rational case can be, and must be, offered by its defenders. The philosophical default of the Conservatives will become final, if Capitalism—the one and only rational way of life—is reduced to the status of a mystic doctrine.
I am not suggesting that you should take a stand against religion. I am saying that Capitalism and religion are two separate issues, which should not be united into one “package deal” or one common cause. This does not mean that religious persons cannot crusade for Capitalism; but it does mean that non-religious persons, like myself, cannot crusade for religion.
According to the Constitutional principle of the separation of Church and State, religion is a private matter; it should not be brought into public issues or into the province of government, and it should not be made a part of political movements. Consider the implications of the attempt to tie Conservatism to religion: if such an attempt succeeded, it would make religion an integral part of our political system, in direct contradiction to the Constitution. The next question to arise would be: which religion? Religions have lived in peace with one another and with non-religious thinkers only since the XIX century, since the American establishment of the principle separating Church and State. Some of them, notably the Catholic Church, have never renounced their dream of regaining control of the State’s power of compulsion. Is this a goal that the advocates of Capitalism can support, assist or sanction? If this goal were to succeed, what would become of religious minorities? Or of those who hold no religion?
When I spoke to you briefly here, in New York, on May 17th, you mentioned your desire to unite all Conservatives in a common cause. I share your desire and I regard it as the most crucially important goal in politics. But it cannot be accomplished without a philosophical base, that is: without a set of rational principles, which all those who join can accept with full understanding and conviction. It cannot be accomplished on the basis of ‘‘faith.’’ A secular political movement does not exclude religious people. A religious political movement does exclude non-religious people, such as myself and those who agree with me.
As a man, you are free to hold any religious or non-religious view you choose; but as a political leader, you must leave the same freedom to your followers. To make religion the basis of your stand is to slap the faces and reject the support of those whom a Conservative leader most needs: the independent thinkers, those who are fighting Collectivism by intellectual means and on the intellectual front.
Among the so-called Conservative intellectuals, I am perhaps the only one who has acquired a large popular following, and the only one who is gaining converts. I deal constantly with young people of college age—and I wish I could communicate to you the kind of apathy, indifference and contempt they exhibit whenever they hear any argument based on “faith.” They are starved for a voice of reason. They are sick of collectivism and eager to fight for freedom. I cannot count how often—and how desperately—they ask me whether there is anyone in politics who holds a rational position. Your name is the only one I give them. I hope that you won’t let them down. They have been disappointed too often by the ineffectuality of the Conservative leadership—by such incidents as the letter from the “Committee For Freedom For All Peoples,” sent out at the time of Khrushchev’s visit to the United States. You may recall that it was a letter signed by five Senators and Congressmen. (I was relieved to see that your name was not among them.) That letter suggested prayer (the holding of religious services) as a form of protest against Khrushchev—and this was the only advice for practical action that it contained.
Frankly, I suspect that Chapter 1 of your book, which stresses the issue of religion, was not written by you, but by your ghost-writer—because it contains contradictions that do not fit the precision and forthrightness of your usual style.[*] On page 12, there is the statement: “The economic and spiritual aspects of man’s nature are inextricably intertwined.” This is true—but it is denied just one page earlier. On pages 10-11, there is the statement: “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.”
If the economic and spiritual aspects of man’s nature are “inextricably intertwined,” neither can be “superior” to the other. Such a term as “superiority” does not apply in this context.
I do not know which aspects of my philosophy, as presented in ATLAS SHRUGGED, you agree with. But you could not have enjoyed or admired my book at all, if you were diametrically opposed to its main thesis, which is: that man’s material, industrial production, like all his other achievements, is the result and the expression of his noblest spiritual qualities: of his mind, his independent thinking, his creative genius—and that the false, mystic doctrine which
splits man in two and regards his spiritual interests as opposed and superior to his material interests, is the basic cause of the destruction of Capitalism.
If the economic part of man’s life is to be regarded as an “animal” function, then there is no reason to admire or respect the industrialists; there is no reason why their achievements should not be placed under the control of those “superior” creatures who are devoted to selflessly “spiritual,” social goals and whose superiority consists of their contempt for vulgar “materialistic” pursuits.
Surely you know that the whole Collectivist case rests on such arguments. Surely you have heard the American businessmen reviled as “vulgar materialists,” and America damned as a “materialistic” country. Surely you cannot wish to sanction, support and help spread that sort of ideas.
On page 10, your book states: “It is Socialism that subordinates all other considerations to man’s material well-being.” This is untenable and disastrous for the following reasons:
a. It implies that Socialism can and will provide man with material well-being.
b. It implies that the poor, the workers and all those who struggle for a living, ought to take the Socialist side—because Capitalism has nothing to offer them but “pie in the sky.”
c. Socialism is not winning converts by “materialistic” promises or considerations; it is winning precisely on “spiritual” grounds. It is considered to be “idealistic”; it promises what men regard as a moral way of life: equal sharing of wealth, altruistic self-sacrifice to the needs of others, automatic help to the afflicted, universal “love,” etc. The material poverty and the miserable standard of living in all Socialist countries are thoroughly well-known to everybody; this does not cause anybody to reject the Socialist side. The magnificent material prosperity of Capitalism is equally well-known; this does not gain any friends for Capitalism. The appeal of Collectivism is not “materialistic.” And no authentic spiritual and moral justification of Capitalism can ever be offered on the mystic-altruist-collectivist premise of damning “material” pursuits and “material greed.”
On page 88 of your book, in discussing the threat of a nuclear war, you state: “The American people are being told
that, however valuable their freedom may be, it is even more important to live.” Thereafter, you take the position that freedom is more important than life. This is a concession to the enemy, an acceptance of his basic premise and of another false alternative that he wants us to accept. The Communists are spending an enormous amount of money and effort to convince us that our choice is: freedom or life. This is a premise that we must never grant them. It is true that no man of self-esteem would buy his life at the price of his freedom; but it is also true that life is impossible without freedom. A slave may gain a short-range span of brute physical survival, which can and will be cut off at any moment by the arbitrary whim of his master. When men fight a war for freedom, they are fighting for their lives.
If men surrendered to Communism they would not gain safety for their lives: millions of them would be exterminated through purges, terror and starvation. Nobody could foretell who would survive: no matter how craven some people might be willing to be, this would not guarantee their safety; a dictatorship slaughters at random; survival would be a matter of blind chance; some would survive, others would not. Now if men “risked” a nuclear war, the same would be true: some would survive, others would not. But the difference is this: the risk of one’s life with a fighting chance to win—or the risk of one’s life in the role of a helpless, defenseless object of extermination.
This is the alternative that should be presented to the American people: not “freedom or life,” but “freedom and life, or slavery and death.”
In the nineteen-thirties, the Conservatives accepted, with disastrous results, the Collectivist premise that men’s choice is: “security or freedom,” and proceeded to advocate the choice of freedom, thus granting that Collectivism could give men security. If, today, they accept another one: “life or freedom,” thus granting that life would be safe under a dictatorship, the results will be equally disastrous. On such premises, what is the purpose, meaning, or value of freedom—if freedom is non-essential either to security or to life?
I cited these issues in detail in order to illustrate the nature of the main contradictions that undercut the power of your book. There are many lesser ones. They clash with the major portions of your book and with the policies you are
advocating. The major portions of your book have strength, clarity, forthrightness and courage—particularly the truly magnificent last chapter, “The Soviet Menace.” (I cheered aloud at almost every paragraph of that last chapter.) The clashing element creeps in mainly in the brief allusions to abstract, philosophical questions; it is an element which I can best describe as something mawkish and foggy. Forgive me for the use of such words—but I find it difficult to believe that a man who has the understanding of principles and the moral integrity to advocate the idea of paragraph 2, page 101 of THE CONSCIENCE OF A CONSERVATIVE (“When the Soviets challenged our rights in West Berlin, we handed them a victory by the mere act of sitting down at the conference table. By agreeing to negotiate on that subject, we agreed that our rights in Berlin were “negotiable”, something they never were before… Our answer to Khrushchev’s ultimatum should have been that the status of West Berlin…is not a matter that we are prepared to discuss with the Soviet Union. That would have been the end of the Berlin “crisis”.”)—I find it difficult to believe that that same man would advocate the tenet that material production belongs to man’s lower, animal nature, without realizing what principle he is establishing and what monstrous moral consequences that principle implies.
Please believe that I am not reproaching or criticizing you for employing a ghost-writer. I know too well that writing is a full-time job, which cannot be combined with the responsibilities of a political office. But I am criticizing your ghost-writer for proving himself unworthy of his assignment.
This leads me to the subject of the NATIONAL REVIEW. I am profoundly opposed to it—not because it is a religious magazine, but because it pretends that it is not. There are religious magazines which one can respect, even while disagreeing with their views. But the fact that the NATIONAL REVIEW poses as a secular political magazine, while following a strictly religious “party-line,” can have but one purpose: to slip religious goals by stealth on those who would not accept them openly, to “bore from within,” to tie Conservatism to religion, and thus to take over the American Conservatives. This attempt comes from a pressure group wider than the NATIONAL REVIEW, but the NATIONAL REVIEW is one of its manifestations.
When a political movement lacks a firm, consistent set of principles, it can be taken over by any minority that knows what it wants. In the nineteen-thirties, the Liberals
were thus taken over by the Communists. According, I believe, to the F.B.I., two percent of the membership was sufficient to turn a Liberal organization into a Communist front. In any group of men, those who formulate basic principles will direct those who don’t, and will determine the practical policy of the group. I am convinced that what the Communists did to the Liberals, the professional religionists are now attempting to do to the Conservatives.
The attempt to use religion as a moral justification of Conservatism began after World War II. Observe the growing apathy, lifelessness, ineffectuality and general feebleness of the so-called Conservative side, ever since.
You are, at present, a rising exception in the Republican ranks. I do not believe that that pressure group could succeed in making you its tool. But a philosophical pressure group is very hard to detect, particularly at first. That is why I want to warn you against them now, and help you to identify the nature of their influence.
I am not certain that you understood my relationship to the NATIONAL REVIEW, when I spoke to you here. I thought that you knew the facts, but perhaps you do not. In brief, they printed a review of ATLAS SHRUGGED by Whittaker Chambers, which I have not read, on principle; those who have read it, told me that this former Communist spy claimed that my book advocates dictatorship. Thereafter, the NATIONAL REVIEW printed two articles about me (which I did read), one of them allegedly friendly, both of them misrepresenting my position in a manner I have not seen outside THE DAILY WORKER or THE NATION. What was significant was their second article: it denounced me for advocating capitalism.
I do not believe that you share the ideology of those people—and I deeply regret the fact that your stand is undermined and undercut by what I believe to be the philosophical ineptitude of a ghost-writer. If it is in my power, I would like to help you avoid the kind of side issues that can lead only to a political dead-end. That is why I urge you to give these questions your earnest consideration. You are the first man of courage, stature and integrity to appear on the political scene in many years; you may be the last.
Since you told me, when I met you for the first time, that you had found the ideas of ATLAS SHRUGGED helpful in your campaign of 1958, I am enclosing three political pamph-
lets (TEXTBOOK OF AMERICANISM and NOTES ON THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN FREE ENTERPRISE, written by me, and THE MORAL ANTAGONISM OF CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM, by Barbara Branden, an associate of mine), which we use for our students. I hope that you will find these pamphlets helpful, as a pattern of the method by which one can present Capitalism to a popular audience, using nothing but the Declaration of Independence as one’s moral and philosophical base.
This letter will give you a chance to consider at your leisure the issues I wanted to discuss with you when I asked for an appointment to see you. If you are able to give me that appointment, I shall be glad to make a trip to Washington any time at your convenience.
*The Conscience of a Conservative was ghost-written by L. Brent Bozell Jr., brother-in-law of William F. Buckley Jr.
In his June 10 response, Senator Goldwater contended that there is a “conservative philosophy” and that he is an advocate of both faith and “natural laws.”