True enough, in a way. It has often been remarked that America doesn’t have a European-style conservative tradition, devoted to defending the prerogatives of an established church or aristocracy. American conservatives like Reagan have always sought instead to conserve the habits and institutions of classical liberalism. And yet, in the contemporary context, Reagan’s anti-statism — no matter how hopeful and optimistic its packaging — made him unmistakably a conservative.
Diggins seems blinded by Reagan’s sunniness, which, in this interpretation, was not just a matter of temperament, but reflective of a deep philosophical and religious conviction. Reagan, Diggins maintains, sought to rid “America of a God of judgment and punishment.” This is absurd. Reagan had a charitable view of human nature and a relaxed, nonjudgmental air, but there is no denying his deeply felt social conservatism. He wrote — as a sitting president, no less — the anti-abortion tract “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation.”
Does Lowry understand how fraught with tension a conservativism that takes its orientation from the (ultimately "progressive") "habits and institutions of classical liberalism" is? And how "anti-statism" is hardly a proxy for conservatism, unless you think that that classical liberalism suffices as a definition of conservatism? I cant tell if Lowry wants to explain (away) Reagans optimism as a matter of "temperament," in which case "a charitable view of human nature and a relaxed nonjudgmental air" amount to personality traits, rather than important bases of a well-thought out (or at least semi-coherent) position. They may be no more than characterological reflexes, which at least frees us from having to puzzle out their systematic connection with the rest of RWRs thought. Or they may be more intimately connected with Reagans particular "fusion," in which case we may have to take seriously the ways in which his conservatism isnt (and cant be) thoroughgoing.
In either case, Reagan may not be a workable model for contemporary conservatives, either because his disposition is hard, if not impossible, to duplicate, or because his position isnt altogether coherent. Does Reagan demonstrate the impossibility of a genuinely American "genuine conservatism"?
A penny for everyones thoughts.