Blogs > Cliopatria > Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History by John Patrick Diggins

Apr 4, 2007 6:48 pm

Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History by John Patrick Diggins

[From the publisher, W.W. Norton] Affirming Reagan's position as one of America's greatest presidents, this is a bold and philosophical reevaluation.

Following his departure from office, Ronald Reagan was marginalized thanks to liberal biases that dominate the teaching of American history, says John Patrick Diggins. Yet Reagan, like Lincoln (who was also attacked for decades after his death), deserves to be regarded as one of our three or four greatest presidents. Reagan was far more active a president and far more sophisticated than we ever knew. His negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev and his opposition to foreign interventions demonstrate that he was not a rigid hawk. And in his pursuit of Emersonian ideals in his distrust of big government, he was the most open-minded libertarian president the country has ever had; combining a reverence for America's hallowed historical traditions with an implacable faith in the limitless opportunities of the future. This is a revealing portrait of great character, a book that reveals the fortieth president to be an exemplar of the truest conservative values. 13 photographs.

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Tim Matthewson - 3/9/2008

Conservatives have long been anxious to proclaim a conservative president the equal of the liberal icons of American history -- FDR, Kennedy, Johnson, and the like. The closest that conservatives have been able to come is President Ronald Reagan, and Reagan's main claim to fame has been the claim that Reagan "won" the Cold War.

Gil Troy attempts to assert the claim by putting it in the voice of the Democrats, saying that "liberals grudgingly acknowledged, as Barack Obama did, that, as the man who was in the right place at the right time, he won the Cold War, restored America’s confidence, and became a transformational leader, unlike his immediate predecessors and successors."

I doubt that "liberals" or Democrats per se have been polled on the subject and I doubt whether, if polled, liberals would agree that Reagan "won" the cold war. The choice of the work "won" makes the claim sound both nationalistic and trivial, as if the US and SU were running a foot race and Reagan, representing the US, crossed the finish line first.

What actually happened was far more important than winning a foot race.
Communism collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Communism does not work -- and it is clear that a large scale command economy was a foolhardy invention. It never could compete with the democratic capitalism of the U.S. That's why communism collapsed of it's own weight. In addition there was a generational change in the SU, with the emergence of a new generation that had not experienced WWII and the birth of communism. And the generational change explains the reason why communism collapsed when it did. In fact it seems clear, had the SU been democratic and capitalist, it never would have collapsed. Reagan had nothing to do with the the decision of Russians to reject communism and instead adopt a democratic and capitalist social and political order. The collapse of communism had profound consequences for Russia involving the complete transformation of Russia's economy and politics, and Reagan was irrelevant to the process.

Conservatives will have to look elsewhere for their great presidents!