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Ronald Reagan’s Republicanism

There’s an interesting piece at Reason magazine online — an interview conducted in July 1975 with Ronald Reagan. In it, Reagan described his brand of conservatism as libertarianism while correctly identifying the problem with the Libertarian Party — that it engenders anarchy, which ultimately leads to totalitarianism:

REAGAN:  If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals–if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.

Now, I can’t say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions. There is a legitimate need in an orderly society for some government to maintain freedom or we will have tyranny by individuals. The strongest man on the block will run the neighborhood. We have government to insure that we don’t each one of us have to carry a club to defend ourselves. But again, I stand on my statement that I think that libertarianism and conservatism are travelling the same path.

While the Libertarian Party is not the answer to the Republican’s current lowered status, the Republicans would do well to study Reagan’s words and create a banner platform they can wave that appeals to self-proclaimed libertarians.

The problem with conservatism today (and the reason the Republicans were defeated in ‘08) is that instead of being champions of less government interference and more individual freedom, they betrayed these basic principles and led the charge for increased government spending. They also alienated secularists by paying homage to the zealots of the Religious Right who do not respect the wall between church and state that is necessary for a free society. The conservatives of today have accepted the same socialist-collectivist premises of the Left. They’ve conceded Obama’s battle cry that each of us should be our “brother’s keeper.”

But you can’t argue for more individual freedom and less government intervention and at the same time support more government control and handouts. At some point, you will lose your argument because you compromised on principles, thereby ensuring victory to the more consistent side — in this case, the Democrats.

The libertarian (or fiscal) Republicans should not lose heart, though.  They still have the better ideology. Obama’s administration will be forced to use conservative economic principles if they are to lead us through this current economic crisis. While the ideas of the Left – that capitalism is the root of all evil and that it thrives on what Herbert Marcuse called a “voluntary servitude,” that globalization equals slavery, that capitalism leads to violence, etc. – will have to be abandoned (at least temporarily) if we are to regain our economic footing.

And the lies of the Left that denigrate capitalism and deify government are ultimately inimical to life and liberty. As such, the Left must rely on the good to survive; and it will do so off the backs of the entrepreneurs and hardworking taxpayers who practice self-responsibility and do not clamor for or rely on government handouts and entitlements.

Today’s conservatives must reinvent themselves, and in doing so they must free themselves from the stranglehold of the “brother’s keeper” premise of the Religious Right and the Left. They must denounce government’s attempts to legislate away poverty – a practice we know does not work. The philosophical subjectivism inherent in the ideas of the Left and the Right — moral relativism and allegiance to the Greater Good on the one hand and allegiance to God’s will on the other — must be rejected or both camps threaten to lead America down a dangerous path of economic ruin and decline.

The new Republican movement must preach, as Reagan did, less government and more individual freedom and mean it; and they must also uphold the separation of church and state. To compromise on any one principle is to risk losing the republic. As Jefferson once said, “I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.” Any argument for religion will end up being an argument over whose religion. Americans cannot afford to engage in religious debate or sully the separation of church and state when we are currently fighting religious fanatics.

As current events unfold, I am horrified at the lack of intellectual leadership. Only when we have more intellectuals who can defend man’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness without reference to a Creator or the Greater Good will we be able to move again toward true prosperity and individual freedom. Until then, don’t let it go.

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