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ETpro's avatar

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!" True or false?

Asked by ETpro (34581points) October 30th, 2013

Barry Goldwater, in his acceptance speech the 1964 US Presidential campaign, said at the Republican Convention: “I would remind you that 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!” Was he right? This was said at the height of the cold war when fears of a nuclear Armageddon with the Soviet Union ran high on both the American and Soviet side.

In response to Goldwater’s praise of extremism, the famous Daisy Ad ran just one time before it was pulled. But that one time was enough. It got replayed in newscast after newscast and discussed in every political talk show of the time. The net result was Goldwater lost by one of the most lopsided votes in US History. Lyndon Johnson carried 44 states and the District of Columbia. Goldwater won only 6 states.

Certainly we want to preserve liberty, but how realistic is in to do that by a reliance on extremism? Doesn’t extremism work directly against liberty? And all but criminals and psychopaths wish to pursue justice, but how much justice can we achieve without a degree of moderation? Is immoderate justice what we should strive for?

We seem to have been embroiled in this debate ever since Goldwater’s lopsided loss. Stung by his defeat, far right-wingers who agreed with him built a 50-state network of well-funded think tanks and PR firms to slowly change the national meme into one where extremism would be a virtue. So while this question seems to deal with an election that happened before many on Fluther were even born, it is as current as the decision we’ll have to make in the 2014 mid-term election and in 2016’s presidential race. In this nuclear age, where do you think the line between reasonable defense of liberty and dogmatic extremism lies?

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29 Answers

janbb's avatar

Who gets to define liberty? I think it is a very subjective issue and therefore I wouldn’t make any blanket statements about it. And also, how are we to defend it? By going into Vietnam? Iraq? I prefer specific discussions about specific situations.

Pachy's avatar

…and who gets to define “extremism”?

elbanditoroso's avatar

Good old Barry. I remember that campaign – I was all of 10 years old.

Remember his other slogan during the ‘64’ campaign
In your heart, you know he’s right.

Of course, it got turned around by his opponents to be
In your guts you know he’s nuts

The bottom line is that Goldwater (or any extremist) never sees that they are extreme. They are so blinded by the ‘justice’ of their cause, that they don’t see anything out kilter. Just look at Ted Cruz.

janbb's avatar

@elbanditoroso On the other hand, if Goldwater were around today, he would probably be considered a moderate Republican.

picante's avatar

I believe extremism is an assault on liberty. To answer your question directly . . . false.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@janbb – that’s right – and pretty scary to think about

Linda_Owl's avatar

I agree with @elbanditoroso – we must all look at Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz wants to be President of the US & he is willing to go to any extremes to accomplish his goal. I do NOT think that the TEA PARTY REPUBLICANS have the best interests of the American people in mind. One has to wonder why they are willing to go down the ‘extremist pathway’ to get what they want?!

KNOWITALL's avatar

I would need an example of extremism as you would define it to tell you if that’s something I’d be comfortable with. Is war extremism? Is wiretapping extremism? Is it laying down in front of a tank like the hippies did extemism? Chaining yourself to a research facility like PETA?

bigfootprint's avatar

It all depends on who’s ox is being gored. Most of these comments are subjective and emotional, not unlike the present political discourse in the USA. There is no intelligent dispassionate exchange any longer Americans can’t concentrate long enough to understand this. Is it extremism to spy indiscriminately on citizens or to intimidate and infringe on freedom of the press, to undermine the constitution?

elbanditoroso's avatar

@KNOWITALL – it isn’t black and white as you describe it. SOME wiretapping is necessary, no doubt. Wiretapping EVERYONE is not. SOME wars are justifiable. SOME are not.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@elbanditoroso Agreed. I was merely pointing out that to me what’s extreme may not be extreme to you. I find chaining yourself to things as protest and laying in front of tanks extreme and usually ineffective but people still do it.

josie's avatar

Neither true nor false.
It is a slogan.

Sort of like Hope and Change. It is supposed to sound good to a typical constituent, hoping they don’t actually think about it too much.

Apparently it didn’t work for Goldwater.

They recently tore down a house in my old neighborhood, and found a vintage 50s or 60s bomb shelter under the back yard. Creepy. I probably would not have voted for him either.

Jaxk's avatar


Extreme is always what the other guy is doing.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Jaxk Exactly, most of my examples of extremism are by liberals. :)

snowberry's avatar

I think the English would have thought the American colonists were definitely “extremists”. Being an “extremist” isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just a label that people put on other people.

Skylight's avatar

“In this nuclear age, where do you think the line between reasonable defense of liberty and dogmatic extremism lies?” I find that the more I reduce a principle down, the more clear the answer becomes and the more we can understand how it is that the principle of extremism effects that around it.

Society is patterned after the same organic principles as all other organisms consisting of a multi-verse of parts to create ONE system dependent upon each of its parts. It therefore must adhere to the same laws and principles. The fact that most do not understand this means nothing to these dynamic mechanisms. They still play out like clockwork.

A crucial aspect of the workings of these systems as a whole is beautifully, if not very cerebrally laid out by Illya Prigogene with his work on’ Dissipative Structure’ and Self Organizing Systems. In his work he expounds upon the fact that within each system there is an inherent point of chaos that becomes triggered when the system has reached its potential within a certain stage of development. Its rather reminiscent of the Yin Yang symbol. Within each contrast, naturally exists a point in which the opposite is present.

When a structure as it is, has achieved its potential at that stage, chaos is triggered, as the intelligence of that system is inherent and cohesive throughout its every part within a unified field.

Something begins to break the ordering of the structure. That seeming chaos veins throughout the structure with such potency, that the structure can no longer find foundation in its previous order. It must then proceed, seemingly in chaos to form a new ordering that can adhere to its now greater potential. It must redefine itself.

In Chaos theory, there is perceived a connectedness to all that is seemingly random. In other words, there is no true chaos, only the ’big bang’, so to speak of new forms being birthed from old, which is far from chaotic when truly investigated. Only the human mind is in chaos as it cannot fathom the layered complexities and ingenious synergies of the bigger picture being played out.

What this means is that our societal structure, and all structures within it, in a macrocosm/ microcosm fashion, must be subject to the same principle of dissipative structure to some degree.

So you ask, how does all of this connect to extremism and its effect upon, or disconnect from our goals and principles? In knowledge there is power.

The more clear we understand the universal dynamics that govern our lives and the galaxies in the same way, the more effective and intelligent will be our response to it.

First, I believe our society is experiencing a period of chaotic dissipation of its previous order, and a leap of sorts towards an embellished state. That can only play out in society through human systems i.e. values, beliefs, and what we envision the creating and sharing of them to look like.

Here is where the chaos is breaking us up. The inherent intelligence and instinct within our race is seeking a greater assimilation of unity and harmony in alignment with our true potential, but we are so polarized, it seems impossible. We even define words such as liberty, freedom, peace and equality in completely different ways.

We also define extremism in different ways.

Most of the time no one knows what the other school of thought is even talking about! Blue means orange and oranges are chicken.

Those who cling to status quo, are in conflict with the principles of expansion. Progress to them is successfully remaining the same. But since we are within an expanding universe, even the human ego, with all of its self glorification cannot pull that off. So we have a million scenarios within this Societal organism, of words battling gaps battling seeming futility and more chaos. Sanctuary!

So when nothing means the same, how does extremism serve? ‘Like’ creates ‘like’ in the world of energy. Therefore, extremism creates only itself, which begets itself ad infinitum.

So that is not the answer. The answer is intelligence and higher mind.

So, in this nuclear age, reasonable defense of liberty, in my opinion, is standing one’s ground and moving forward incrementally in harmony with the new order. Dogmatic extremism is merely reflecting back an aggressiveness that creates more chaos and speaks to a now fallen reasoning.

There has to be the understanding that we speak different languages, we are devoted to different ideals that dress the same, and that we are subject to something much larger than ourselves.

We must understand that limitation, injustice, inequality, oppression, and stagnation are a contraction, not an expansion.

They are screaming like holy hell because it is their last hurrah at this point in time to a degree, and they are adding to the chaotic node we are meant to be in right now. They will lose. No need to dumb down with extremism.

The system will coalesce as we each coalesce. That is how an organism works. No grandiose hero, scenario or date on the Calendar.

The new order speaks to the importance of each of its parts, the empowerment of each of its parts, the health of each of its cells, the equality of each of its functions, and the expressing of the kind of energy we want to create as a whole. We are the answer. You, me, & that guy over there. We are the heroes, the grounding of reason into the new order, by how we live our lives. To my mind, that is what the universe is going for.

flutherother's avatar

Defence of liberty is no vice, extremism usually is.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Extremism lends itself to a narrow view of both the problem and the solution. Since conflicts within or between societies are never as simple as describe by extremists, their proposed solutions are doomed to be inadequate and misguided. Careful analysis and discussion with people who have opposing views lends to better solutions that produce more stable and more satisfactory solutions for the parties concerned. Recent dysfunction in the US house of representatives exemplifies to outcome of extremism.

filmfann's avatar

It is easy to defend liberty, and as a result lose it.
Just look at the patriot act.

ETpro's avatar

@janbb & @Pachyderm_In_The_Room My vote is the dictionary gets to define words. Asking individuals is a slippery slope. I’m sure Chairman Mao would have defined liberty as his right to kill 50 million of his own people for being enemies of the revolution (as evidenced by wearing glasses, or being educated), and extremism as opposing the mass slaughter his paranoid delusions drove him to. I wouldn’t agree, nor would the dictionary.

@elbanditoroso Poor Barry. “In your guts you know he’s nuts” rhymed better and was more memorable. It also happened to be closer to the truth.

@picante I agree. GA!

@Linda_Owl One has to understand Right Wind Authoritarian Followers to understand why they do what they do. They have now been so AstroTurfed by big money interests like the Koch Brothers and the Club for Growth (of billionaire’s bank accounts) that the dupes among them (the vast majority) don’t even have a clue what path they are going down. If they did, they would recognize that it is one that leads to wage slavery for all of them outside their Right-Wind Authoritarian Leaders.

@KNOWITALL Again, I fall back on the quaint idea that if you aren’t sure what a word means, it’s a good idea to look it up. Here is a fairly thorough discussion of what extremism means, and it’s a balanced one in that it talks about left- and right-wing extremism. Wars are generally started by extremists. So within that definition, can you answer the OP?

@bigfootprint I don’t agree that “There is no intelligent dispassionate exchange any longer” since some has been in evidence right here. But yes, indiscriminately spying on citizens and shredding the Constitution makes it onto my extremism radar.

@josie I think it is a slogan, but that it does lie somewhere on the true to false scale just like “Hope and change” does. Never mind whether the slogan ended up being delivered. If slogans meant nothing, how would we even judge whether they were achieved or not?

@Jaxk & @KNOWITALL I think the dictionary is probably right about meaning, in which case those who seek to impose their own definition in place of the one widely understood are wrong.

@snowberry At the time of the American revolution, the Patriots were extreme liberals. Whether that was good or bad depended to most on which side, Kink George Loyalists, or American Patriots, buttered your bread. But there were bigger principles in play, and personally, I come down solidly on the side of the Patriots and not Royalists, Divine Rights supporters and British East India Company corporatists.

@Skylight Awsome answer. Looks like I asked the question you’ve been waiting to answer. One thing we thinking lumps of protoplasm need to think about is that if we provoke the next great change by touching off a global thermonuclear war, we will cause the extinction of all advanced life on Earth, and the Sun will become so hot in another billion years that it will begin to evaporate the oceans and advanced life will never again emerge on this planet. So much for the eternal rotation of Yin and Yang. Interesting philosophy, but then philosophy has so little to do with real life.

@flutherother It wasn’t just defense of liberty, it was “Moderation in the defense of liberty…” How much liberty is there in a society where moderation is abhorred and immoderation is applauded?

@Dr_Lawrence Excellen t answer.

@filmfann That is the lack of moderation in the defense of liberty.

Jaxk's avatar


Once again, nice try. The definition, even by your own link is not as solid as you pretend. Your link even provides the example that in authoritarian states those advocating democracy would be labeled as ‘Extremists’ (this is the context in which Goldwater used his statement) and in democratic societies, those advocating authoritarian regimes would be labeled ‘Extremists’.

In fact they even caution about labeling any group as extremists since it is defined as an extreme deviation from the norm. Of course the norm is a subjective judgement call as is the deviation from it and typically a political call. With all this in mind, I stand by my statement that Extremist is what the other guy is doing. And thanks for supplying the back-up for me.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@ETpro I’ll have to concur with @Jaxk on that.

ETpro's avatar

@Jaxk & @KNOWITALL What labels dedicated liars elect to hang on people has nothing to do with the meaning of the word the choose. Be careful where you go in your wish to always be right, far right, of me. You are both flirting with moral relativism, and I am pretty sure you despise that as much as I do.

filmfann's avatar

@ETpro Are you saying that extremism is different from the lack of moderation?
How do you measure that?

Jaxk's avatar


I wonder who the dedicated liars would be. I have no wish to be right of you, I simply AM right of you. You try to use a very subjective and politically charged term to label Republicans as extremists. It’s almost laughable. Every question, every post you present is designed to denigrate Republicans. We have a regime in power who’s motto is ‘Fundamental Change’. That is the very essence of extremism.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@ETpro All I can really say is that I find some people willing to go to extreme’s in many areas of life and on all political sides.

If someone wants to risk their life to put a daisy in a soldiers gun to protest war/ violence, or incite violence at Wall Street by crossing police lines that’s their choice. If someone wants to bomb an abortion clinic to protest abortion, that is also their choice. Both are violent and illegal.

My personal opinion of their forms of protest may not be relevant here unless I make a moral judgement. I hope that makes sense to you.

ETpro's avatar

@Jaxk Please be assured I was not talking about you, @KNOWITALL or any member of FLuther. Any extremist party, whether far right or far left, that is driven by ideology and not truth, will use whatever lies it can to achieve its ideological ends. In the West, it is right-wing authoritarians. In communist countries it is left-wing authoritarians. While they are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, they act as if they were identical twins separated at birth.

Ron_C's avatar

Extremist action in a democratic state limits democracy, no matter whether the extremists claim to be capitalist, socialist, or democratic.

It reminds me of a comment in a book. The subject was entry into an advanced learning facility. Anyone could take the entry exam but only a few were admitted. The observer was amazed that installing an additional lock on democracy was seen to increase democracy.

It is possible, but unlikely that the extremists would ever accept a truly democratic government.

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