When Republicans seek to seal their political bona fides, the name Ronald Reagan, and the philosophy of “Reagan conservatism” is routinely invoked. Yet never has anyone put together a comprehensive guide to what Reagan conservatism really is.
Paul Kengor, professor of political science at Grove City College, Reagan biographer, and author of numerous books including the 2012 title ”The Communist” (published under our Mercury Ink imprint) and “God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life,” does just this in a timely new book out tomorrow entitled “11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.”
Below are Kengor’s so-called “Reagan Eleven,” “11 specific beliefs that undergird Reagan’s thinking and action as a President and public figure,” that get to the “crux of what Reagan’s conservatism was about and what his emulators today might take to heart.” We include selected excerpts that give a picture as to what “11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative” is all about.
“this freedom principle was not just an American principle; for Reagan, it was a universal principle. Freedom was not the exclusive domain of Americans. Reagan said that freedom was one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit.” All humans aspire to freedom. And when governments permit people to express their aspiration for freedom, especially in the economic sphere, freedom works. Reagan told the United Nations flatly, “the free market…works.” Conservatives thus needed to be freedom fighters. According to Reagan, conservatives should not simply be anti-big government or anti-communist or against high taxes and burdensome regulations, but, in the positive, “keepers of the flame of liberty.” By Reagan’s recounting, a conservative conserved freedom.”
[sharequote align=”center”]Honoring freedom was…”redeeming” in the eyes of God.[/sharequote]
…”There is, said Reagan, a spiritual center at the “heart of freedom.” It is there because each of us is made in the image of God “the creator.” It is this that is truly “our power” and “our freedom.” Honoring freedom was thus “redeeming” in the eyes of God. The Creator had created freedom. He had created man. He had created us to be free. Honoring freedom meant honoring the Creator and our divine right.”
“For the conservative, freedom requires faith; it should never be decoupled from faith. Freedom not rooted in faith can lead to moral anarchy, which in turn, creates social and cultural chaos. Freedom without faith is the Las Vegas strip, not the City of God. Freedom without faith begets license and invites vice rather than virtue. Faith infuses the soul with a sanctifying grace that allows humans in a free society to love and serve their neighbors, to think about more than themselves. We aspire to our better angels when our faith nurtures and elevates our free will.
[sharequote align=”center”]Freedom not rooted in faith can lead to moral anarchy, which…creates social and cultural chaos.[/sharequote]
…[During a speech at Georgetown in 1988]: “He asked his audience to pray that America be guided by learning, faith and freedom. He quoted Alexis de Tocqueville…”Tocqueville said in 1835, and it’s as true today as it was then: ‘Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. Religion is more needed in democratic societies than any other. ‘” With a nod to his academic audience, Reagan warned “Learning is a good thing, but unless it’s tempered by faith and a love of freedom, it can be very dangerous indeed. The names of many intellectuals are recorded on the rolls of infamy, from Robespierre to Lenin to Ho Chi Minh to Pol Pot.”
“It is in a family that children are not only cared for but, said Reagan, “taught the moral values and traditions that give order and stability to our lives and to society as a whole.”…In a decidedly conservative sentiment, Reagan insisted that it is up to families to “preserve and pass on to each succeeding generation the values we share and cherish.”…Reagan insisted that our “concept of the family” “must withstand the trends of lifestyle and legislation.” And concepts like fatherhood, said Reagan, should mean what they have always meant in America…Not every new change or new law is right, nor is (said Reagan) every fad or fashion. “Progress” does not always progress toward the good (quite the contrary), especially when it latches on to the latest cultural dictate or fancy. The family, which is always older than the newest law or license, is a bulwark against the prevailing zeitgeist or latest cultural twaddle about ‘lifestyle.”…Reagan unwaveringly believed in and defended the traditional, time-tested, ancient, biblical, biological, natural understanding of family: a married man and a woman and their children.”
4. Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life
“Reagan’s concern for the right to life was…an outgrowth of his faith. The right to life was an issue he found inseparable from the life of Christ.In a January 1984 speech to religious broadcasters, he said, “God’s most blessed gift to his family is the gift of life. He sent us the Prince of Peace as a babe in the manger.” Like nineteenth-century clergy who led the movement to abolish slavery, Reagan as a Christian saw himself as duty-bound to fight abortion, which he equated with slavery in terms of moral outrage and deprivation of human dignity
…[Reagan said during this 1984 speech]…”How can we survive as a free nation when some decide that others are not fit to live and should be done away with? I believe no challenge is more important to the character of American than restoring the right to life to all human beings. Without that right, no other rights have meaning. “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God.”
5. American exceptionalism
“In his [Reagan’s] partings words from the Oval Office, he said that he wanted an “informed patriotism,” and asked, “Are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?…”…Reagan feared “an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.” He hoped that not only educators but also parents would not fail the essential civic task, a task he saw as quintessentially American. With a smile for his national audience, Reagan gently asked children to hold their parents accountable, chiding, “And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do. A very American thing to do. For Reagan, it was as American as a shining city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed. An exceptional America. That’s how Ronald Reagan saw it.”
6. The Founders’ wisdom and vision
Reagan went to the Founders on behalf of emphasizing the importance of limited government, the significance of faith to America and its people, and the inherited exceptionalism of America–as a “Shining City” with a special destiny for all mankind. In his own time, he portrayed a nation with people facing another historic challenge two centuries beyond the American Revolution: a Cold War challenge. He borrowed the ideals and principles of the Founders in coloring a portrait of the American nation and system in this new challenging period. He contrasted that nation and its system with the totalitarian system of the USSR. And the America he portrayed to its people and the wider world in the 1980s was still the Founders’ America. He evinced an abiding, ongoing patriotic and intellectual loyalty to their thoughts and vision. Their vision would sustain us still, in yet another challenge. In short, Reagan connected his vision of government with that of the Founders. He concluded that at the axis of this unique place forged by those unique Founders was a basic understanding that the proper, fundamental function of government was to protect life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. Reagan’s founders were the authors and signers of a Constitution and Declaration that affirmed these basic principles of humanity–the First Amendment freedoms, the basic civil liberties, the nation’s first principles.”
7. Lower taxes
“Reagan came to see the counterproductive nature of these excessive taxes. He thought the top rates so punitive they discouraged work, including his own. The so-called B movie actor was one of the top box-office draws at Warner Brothers. Reagan saw no incentive in continuing to work–that is, make more movies–once his income hit the top rate. He realized who suffered from that choice. It wasn’t Reagan; he was wealthy. It was the custodians, cafeteria ladies, camera crew, and working folks on the studio lot. They lost work. They lost money. Reagan was appalled. In speeches in the 1950s and 1960s, he blasted the progressive income tax as “right out of” Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Indeed, the Manifesto calls for “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax.” It is point two in Marx’s ten-point program, second only to his call for “abolition of property.” Reagan viewed such rates–and the government beat that they fed–as symptomatic of what he called “creeping socialism.”
8. Limited government
“Reagan felt that by January 1981, when he was inaugurated, the federal government had subsumed far too many roles and duties that should have been left to the private sector or to local and states governments. As noted, he believed that FDR saw the New Deal as merely a “temporary measure” during a time of “national emergency.” He speculated that FDR would not have advocated a permanent cradle-to-grave system that deterred so many Americans from financial independence and prosperity. Again, Reagan felt that this had only gotten worse–much worse–with LBJ’s Great Society. All of these liberal “good intentions” had merely helped foster a “dependency class.” And as government grew, so did tax rates to fuel the federal Leviathan. When Reagan invoked the mantra of “freedom,” it was about freedom not only from Soviet/communist tyranny abroad, but also from out-of-control big government at home.”
9. Peace through strength
“Reagan long maintained that a buildup in U.S. military strength would decrease the likelihood of war and increase the likelihood of peace. It would also, he predicted, bring the Soviet Union to the negotiating table to reduce nuclear missile arsenals. American needed to build up its weaponry before both superpowers could build down. Thus, Reagan believed that heightened defense spending was worthwhile even if it heightened the overall budget deficit The trade-off justified the cost.
…Importantly, this desire to bring the Soviets to the table for missile reductions reflects another core conviction of Ronald Reagan: He detested nuclear weapons. Contrary to the left’s vile caricature of him as a trigger-happy nuclear warmonger, Reagan was horrified at the prospects of nuclear war. He so badly wanted to reduce the nuclear threat that he actually favored a total abolition of nuclear weapons, a position vigorously rejected not only by many of his advisers but also by many liberal Democrats who advocated a policy of mutual-assured destruction (MAD) that they believed lessened the risk of a nuclear exchange.”
As for Reagan, driven as he was by the “twin beacons” of faith and freedom, he was aghast at the communist war on religion. He saw himself as a voice for the voiceless in the communist world, those captive peoples languishing in the “heart of darkness.” He unhesitatingly labeled the Soviet empire an “Evil Empire.”
When Reagan did so, his courageous candor and expression of undeniable truth was met with revulsion. Liberals blasted his (alleged) saber rattling and bellicosity. Nonetheless, Reagan held firm. In later defending himself for having dared to utter the truth about communism, he explained, “For too long our leaders were unable to describe the Soviet Union as it actually was…I’ve always believed, however, that it’s important to define differences.
And what were those differences? Said Reagan, “The Soviet system over the years has purposely starved, murdered, and brutalized its own people. Millions were killed; it’s all right there in the history books. It put other citizens it disagreed with into psychiatric hospitals, sometimes drugging them into oblivion. Is the system that allowed this not evil? Then why shouldn’t we say so?”
Reagan did say so. And he had said so from the beginning of his public life: There was no greater enemy to human freedom than communism.”
11. Belief in the individual
In America, every person was and is a sacred reality. It was a “profound truth,” said Reagan, that the “soul,” more than the “physical,” was “truly important.” Because they have eternal souls, individuals are incomparably more important than a temporal state. For a noneternal state to attempt to deny an eternal individual was intolerable and unacceptable.
To Reagan, the individual is always superior to the state; the former is forever, the latter is fleeting. The individual takes form in the womb and remains just as vital throughout all stages of life. No matter what its stage or nation, the individual has a sacred dignity that must always be protected and defended.
To a conservative, surely a Reagan conservative, every individual is special, unique, a potential producer with value and new dreams and ideas, one who adds to the world, not subtracts from it; every new individual is not to be lamented as yet another burden on the state, on poverty rolls, on redistribution, on “overpopulation,” on the environment’s precious “limited” resources, as another mouth the government must feed. Every new individual, beginning in the womb, holds promise and is to be welcomed, not feared, shunned, and certainly not destroyed.”