Barry Goldwater was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona 3 years before Arizona became a U.S. state. He died in Paradise Valley, Arizona at 89 from a stroke.

Goldwater has a mixed religious heritage. His father was Jewish, the son of first-generation Russian-Jewish immigrants. But Goldwater was raised in the religion of his mother, that being Episcopalian, and stuck to it throughout his life.1

One gets the feeling that Goldwater wasn’t too devout a Christian. He said:

If a man acts in a religious way, an ethical way, then he’s really a religious man—and it doesn’t have a lot to do with how often he gets inside a church.2

Taking it a step further, it would seem that Goldwater saw religion as a roadblock to freedom, though he acknowledged its social significance. He once remarked in frustration:

And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”3

Mr. Conservative who was almost president

Though dubbed “Mr. Conservative” by his opponents and supporters, Goldwater was a far cry from the religion conservatives of modern America. His first priority was freedom and liberty in the real, libertarian, “free society” sense of these words. Some even consider him the forefather of the libertarian movement. Though he was a Republican and ran for president as such in 1964, he held those who would try to run the country on religious principles in contempt. He said:

I am a conservative Republican, but I believe in democracy and the separation of church and state. The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process.4

That quote is about as libertarian as it gets. But Goldwater was very loyal to his political party and started a bit of a revolution among the Republicans during his 5 terms as an Arizona Senator.

Goldwater rejected the New Deal set forth by FDR during the Great Depression. In classic libertarian fashion, he passionately opposed social welfare, regulation, and what he considered unnecessary taxation. Goldwater was often accused of being extreme, but didn’t consider it an insult, saying:

Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.5

As Goldwater’s political career wore on, religious conservatives were overtaking the party (Ronald Reagan for example) and Goldwater’s opposition to the combination of church and state caused some of his party members to call him a liberal.6 But it wasn’t Goldwater that changed–he was quite consistent throughout his political career–society just changed around him.

  1. Barry Goldwater Dead at 89. Washington Post. []
  2. Barry Goldwater. Kool Kwotes. []
  3. Barry Goldwater. Wikiquote. []
  4. Godlwater vs Religious Right. Liberals Like Christ. []
  5. Barry Goldwater Quotes. Brainy Quote. []
  6. A Profile of Barry Goldwater. About. []