Study Guide

Harry Jaffa in 1964 RNC Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech

By Barry Goldwater

Harry Jaffa

Harry Jaffa made a career out of writing about influential figures in American political history. And when we say "influential," we mean the big dogs: Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Abe Lincoln, even Aristotle and John Locke. In fact, his book Crisis of the House Divided is considered by many to be the best book about Honest Abe ever. Honest.

But even though his work was all about the past, in 1964 Harry was looking toward the future. And the future he wanted to see was conservative.

He's the dude who penned those famous words that ended up in Goldwater's acceptance speech: "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" (133-34). That line may have gotten a lot of Republicans pretty amped when they heard it, but man, did it cause a world of hurt for Goldwater with the liberals and the media. It's even been blamed for him losing the election.

So why'd Jaffa do it?

First of all, it was kind of unintentional in the beginning. He was part of a group helping with Goldwater's campaign, he wrote a memo to Goldwater with those lines in it, and that memo was incorporated into the speech per the candidate's request.

It isn't exactly an original thought. In fact, it's exactly an unoriginal thought. Remember all those big dogs Jaffa made his career writing about? Pretty much all of them said—or wrote—some version of that sentiment about extremism during their own illustrious political careers.

So maybe Jaffa figured he was writing conservative stuff, for a conservative guy, trying to win conservative votes… Might as well include a conservative maxim. Like, an uber conservative maxim.

It's daring and provocative, like crawfish shorts.

And crawfish shorts… we like your style.

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