Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Political Philosophy


Lawler, are you and your peeps trying to bait me with the impertinent post immediately below?  Of course Reagan was a conservative, but he didn't fit into any of the usual sub-categories to which most of us on the right pledge our troth.  He was an American conservative, a distinct species that still is hard to make out.  (I commented in my recent review of Patrick Allitt's book that calling the Founders such as Jefferson and Madison "conservative innovators" would be an oxymoron anywhere but America.)

Here's how Reagan explained his affinity for Thomas Paine (which several of the discussants below note with arched eyebrows) way back in 1965:

The classic liberal used to be the man who believed the individual was, and should be forever, the master of his destiny.  That is now the conservative position.  The liberal used to believe in freedom under law.  He now takes the ancient feudal position that power is everything.  He believes in a stronger and stronger central government, in the philosophy that control is better than freedom.  The conservative now quotes Thomas Paine, a long-time refuge of the liberals: "Government is a necessary evil; let us have as little of it as possible." 

There's much more to say here, of course, but then everyone knows where to find it now.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Steve, You may be so vain that you thought I was thinking about you or something along those lines. Click again to see how the discussion is going and whom I was actually baiting. But I gotta dissent from Reagan on Paine, the notorious atheist who way too open that the insanity that happened in France. Ranking Paine that high was the opinion, say, of Walt Whitman. I really do prefer the pro-American and pro-Irish prudence of Burke.

Um, I guess my irony is too well hidden to escape charges of vanity from someone who so often refers to himself as "ME" on his posts. Back to the drawing board I guess.

Steve, it would be great if you could provide a compendium of links to all of your multimedia material about the second volume.

Is No Left Turns becoming tattered in a hard gust of snark?

Nonetheless, Tom Paine hardly seems conservative--unless being imprisoned under the arbitrary rule of a revolution he defended is considered conservative.

But if Paine is conservative, then I guess Aristotle is a liberal advocate for universal health care as Bobby Kennedy alleged.

The author seems to concentrate on Reagan's theology and philosophy. Worrying if Reagan was a tad too "Emersonian" seems a little tenditious, given the pro-communist anti-reagan now in the White House.

WWRD? No. WWRPAHWTAT--What Were Reagan's Principles And How Would They Apply Today.

He wasn't perfect. Just better than all the rest.

Steve, could you give us more on your take on Reagan and his use of Paine? No (non-libertarian) intellectual conservative going to have his DEEP regret that Reagan favorably quoted Paine's "we can start the world over" passage (almost as bad as TJ's notorious "Adam and Eve" letter) be much ameliorated by your saying he was an "American conservative."

Let me put it this way. The manner in which RR quotes Paine in your post on limited government is not simply laudatory. Rather, he's indicating that EVEN PAINE, the uber liberal by the old schema, would be opposed to the Dem platform circa JFK/LBJ. From this quote alone, I don't have the sense that RR is saying , as I'm pretty sure Glen Beck is in his wee lil book(no Beckian expert me, tho) that studying up on Paine provides a solid guide to one's politics. All I have is the irony that it is now the conservative who can usefully QUOTE Paine.
So rReagan quotes Paine to annoy liberals and show how far they have come from their American roots. Religion and other topics on which Paine was bad are not the key political issue for Reagan in 65. It's "the big govmnt, stupid," and Paine helps him frame that issue.

Now on Progress, IF Reagan simply used Paine as a quote mine for his flights of progressivist/Emersonian fancy, while in his grounded sense (perhaps lost in his rhetoric) being basically with both Tocqueville and Lincoln in a) calling for ever-more progress while b) denying the possibility of the indefinite perfectability of man/U.S., THEN I can be much bit more at peace about that side of the man.

I assume you have a good sense of this, in any case.

And of course, I am not completely at peace with any of our leaders, but I am certainly more admiring of and grateful to Reagan than I am of many of our leaders past. I do hope I get to read your books.

I would recommend all who are interesting this is question of RWR was a Conservative or not and those who might have serious doubts.. should see the Fight between Russell Kirk and Willmoore Kendall in the 50s/60s.. about what it means to be a Conservative in America!!! Kendall savaged Kirk... perhaps too hard and unfairly but in truth.. Kirk's love affair with Burke has mislead much about what it means to be conservative in America. The Kirk-Burkians tend to ultimately sides with elites and in the here and now the elites are the problem--as since the counter culture children of the 60s took over from their liberal parents, the anti-establishment became the establishment. So ironically the so called Burkian types.. like Brooks and Will and even Buckley have a soft spot for the liberals, as on one level they are all of the same order.. you know, wink wink the right sort of chap. This should echo what Iowa Hawk's famous take down of Chistopher Buckley and gang's embrace of Obama. If that's Conservatives, then please toss it down the toilet.

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