In the opening chapter of the forthcoming volume of Steve Hayward’s Age of Reagan: Lion at the Gate (linked yesterday), Steve suggests that Reagan should properly be characterized as the Great Liberator rather than as the Great Communicator. In her moving eulogy for President Reagan yesterday, Lady Thatcher herself took up the theme and dubbed Reagan the Great Liberator.
The new issue of the Weekly Standard includes Lady Thatcher’s eulogy for President Reagan and otherwise picks up where Lady Thatcher left off in the eulogy. The keynote of the brilliant pieces included in the issue is Professor David Gelernter’s “What Ronald Reagan Understood.”
The handmaiden of the totalitarian enemies faced by Churchill in the 1930’s, Reagan in the 1980’s, and Bush now, Professor Gelernter demonstrates, is pacifism:
To grasp Reagan’s achievement, we must understand the striking continuum of pacifism from the 1930s through the 1980s through today–and remember, simultaneously, that Churchill had help changing Britain’s mind (namely Hitler’s war); Bush had help changing America’s mind and his own–9/11. But in 1980 the world was (approximately) at peace. The Soviet war in Afghanistan was the only large-scale exception. Reagan therefore confronted pacifist America and the pacifist world with no leverage, no mechanical advantage. To accomplish his objectives he had to shoulder the whole weight of world pacifism and throw it over. And he did.
Nowadays Swedish demonstrators wave signs reading “USA-murderers” and “War is terrorism.” In 1982, Italian demonstrators brandished signs reading “Reagan brings war to Italy” and “Reagan executioner.” During the First World War, the British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote, “I work for a government I despise for ends I think criminal”; in the mid-1930s, British prime minister Stanley Baldwin was reported to be “for peace at any price,” and in 1938, the politician Thomas Jones (Baldwin’s close friend) wrote that “we have to convince the world that for peace we are prepared to go to absurd lengths.” Same theme from World War I through this afternoon: The United States (and Britain) are guilty; war is evil no matter what; peace must be preserved whatever the cost.
Reagan knew it all to be a simple-minded lie…
We understand the totalitarian’s lust for power. We are less familiar with the pacifist’s lust for impotence. But if we care to understand the modern world, the “Will to Powerlessness” is just as important as Nietzsche’s famous Wille zur Macht.
Professor Gelernter’s essay has the great virtue of illuminating Reagan’s statesmanship as well as the challenge before us now.
The perfect companion to Professor Gelernter’s essay is Tom Rose’s interview of Natan Sharansky, also included in the issue: “The view from the Gulag.” The interview in its own way provides testimony in support of the proposition that Reagan is the Great Liberator.
Rose asks Sharansky, “Were there any particular Reagan moments that you can recall being sources of strength or encouragement to you and your colleagues?” Sharansky answers:
I have to laugh. People who take freedom for granted, Ronald Reagan for granted, always ask such questions. Of course! It was the great brilliant moment when we learned that Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the Soviet Union an Evil Empire before the entire world. There was a long list of all the Western leaders who had lined up to condemn the evil Reagan for daring to call the great Soviet Union an evil empire right next to the front-page story about this dangerous, terrible man who wanted to take the world back to the dark days of the Cold War. This was the moment. It was the brightest, most glorious day. Finally a spade had been called a spade. Finally, Orwell’s Newspeak was dead. President Reagan had from that moment made it impossible for anyone in the West to continue closing their eyes to the real nature of the Soviet Union.
It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations, and we all instantly knew it. For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now. This was the end of Lenin’s “Great October Bolshevik Revolution” and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution–Reagan’s Revolution.
When Sharansky was released from the Gulag in a prisoner exchange engineered by the Reagan administration in 1986, Sharansky himself had the opportunity to tell Reagan the story:
The first time I met President Reagan I told him this story. I felt free to tell him everything. I told him of the brilliant day when we learned about his Evil Empire speech from an article in Pravda or Izvestia that found its way into the prison. When I said that our whole block burst out into a kind of loud celebration and that the world was about to change, well, then the president, this great tall man, just lit up like a schoolboy. His face lit up and beamed. He jumped out of his seat like a shot and started waving his arms wildly and calling for everyone to come in to hear “this man’s” story. It was really only then that I started to appreciate that it wasn’t just in the Soviet Union that President Reagan must have suffered terrible abuse for this great speech, but that he must have been hurt at home too. It seemed as though our moment of joy was the moment of his own vindication. That the great punishment he had endured for this speech was worth it.
Please read all of both these contributions to our understanding of the statesmanship of Ronald Reagan.