Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History

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Affirming Reagan's position as one of America's greatest presidents, this is a bold and philosophical reevaluation.
Following his departure from office, Ronald Reagan was marginalized thanks to liberal biases that dominate the teaching of American history, says John Patrick Diggins. Yet Reagan, like Lincoln (who was also attacked for decades after his death), deserves to be regarded as one of our three or four greatest presidents. Reagan was far more active a president and far ...

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Affirming Reagan's position as one of America's greatest presidents, this is a bold and philosophical reevaluation.
Following his departure from office, Ronald Reagan was marginalized thanks to liberal biases that dominate the teaching of American history, says John Patrick Diggins. Yet Reagan, like Lincoln (who was also attacked for decades after his death), deserves to be regarded as one of our three or four greatest presidents. Reagan was far more active a president and far more sophisticated than we ever knew. His negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev and his opposition to foreign interventions demonstrate that he was not a rigid hawk. And in his pursuit of Emersonian ideals in his distrust of big government, he was the most open-minded libertarian president the country has ever had; combining a reverence for America's hallowed historical traditions with an implacable faith in the limitless opportunities of the future. This is a revealing portrait of great character, a book that reveals the fortieth president to be an exemplar of the truest conservative values.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A professor of history at the City University of New York Graduate Center, Diggins (The Rise and Fall of the American Left) provides an original reappraisal of Ronald Reagan from the conservative perspective. Throughout, Diggins discovers nuances that have heretofore escaped notice by most other Reagan scholars. For example: in appraising Reagan's reaction as California governor to '60s radicals, Diggins is the first writer to acknowledge the extent to which the onetime movie star shared common ground with rebels on campuses nationwide. Reagan, with his reverence for Thomas Paine and passion for limiting the reach of government, was-on at least one level-more than sympathetic when Berkeley protesters chanted, "Two, Four, Six, Eight, Organize to Smash the State!" Although a fan of Reagan's, Diggins doesn't hesitate to be critical-as when he discusses Reagan's attitude as president toward environmental issues, which Diggins characterizes as "puzzling" and "disastrous." (Diggins notes that Reagan's record as governor of California, where he allied himself with old guard Republican conservationists, was far more environmentally-friendly.) Overall, Diggins does a superb job of tracing Reagan's intellectual development from old school New Dealer to thoughtful, Emersonian libertarian, and also firmly establishes Reagan's credentials as a major architect of communism's final collapse. 13 photos. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Now that nearly two decades have passed since the Ronald Reagan presidency ended, insightful commentaries that benefit from recently released documents and new historical perspectives have supplanted the many kick-and-tell memoirs written by officials and advisors immediately following the Gipper's departure from office. These two works illuminate the political roots that anchored Reagan's memorable speeches and policies. Diggins (history, CUNY Graduate Ctr.; The Proud Decades) claims that the many liberal academic historians and a biased media have denied Reagan his legacy as one of our greatest presidents. He identifies Reagan as the "Emersonian President," who believed that power is best when it resides in people, not government. This belief, he says, inspired Reagan's advocacy of small government, low taxes, and anticommunism. While such events as the Iran-contra fiasco, the savings and loan scandals, ballooning deficits, and strained race relations-all described here-must be factored into Reagan's legacy, Diggins makes a good case that Reagan's relationships with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resulted in nuclear disarmament and a Cold War thaw that were Lincolnesque in their importance and revealing of a "greatness of soul." Evans, an attorney who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, offers an account of Reagan's years with General Electric (GE) from 1954 to 1962. During this time, he shows, Reagan honed his emerging conservative message while serving as the traveling ambassador to GE's 250,000 workers at 139 plants throughout the United States. For Reagan, this experience was his advanced education in practical politics taught by his mentor, GE director of community relations Lemuel Boulware, to whom the author devotes much attention. Boulware taught his apt pupil how to avoid labor bosses and speak directly to the blue-collar employees who enthused over his call for lower taxes and reduced government control. The education and the enhanced communications skills that Reagan took from his GE years propelled him toward the political career that culminated with his two-term presidency and wide public support. Both of these books about Reagan's rise are recommended for public and academic libraries, and Diggins's book, strongly so, for larger public collections. [Diggins's book was previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/06.]-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A middle-of-the-road liberal (John Adams, 2003, etc.) looks into Ronald Reagan's soul and concludes that it was great-and that the president was "politically wise, humane, and magnanimous" to boot. Reagan was more radical than conservative, by Diggins's account. He found inspiration in the life and work of Tom Paine, that little acknowledged founding father; he quoted Paine to the Soviets and hailed the Afghan mujahedeen and Nicaraguan contras as Paine's rightful heirs. He considered the state to be the source of most evil, though his actions, Diggins writes, made big government inevitable; his dream of an almost stateless society and his sensibility generally "partook of the tragic vision of liberalism." And, Diggins suggests, Reagan's religion was less inclined to Christian fundamentalism than to a Jeffersonian deism: "He seemed to offer a Christianity without Christ and the crucifixion, a religion without reference to sin, evil, suffering, or sacrifice." All in all, Diggins writes, Reagan "was a liberal romantic who opened up the American mind to the full blaze of Emersonian optimism." For this and many other reasons, not least because Reagan knew his Transcendentalists, Diggins holds that Reagan needs serious attention from intellectual historians, who have largely dismissed him as a nonintellectual. Not so, Diggins counters: Reagan was aware of the nature of his arguments, was well schooled in them. If Diggins has a beef, it is with the unworthy neoconservatives who claim Reagan as their own; Diggins faults Reagan's view of the Cold War as inaccurate and lacking in complexity, for instance, but clearly favors it to the reckless warmaking of the current administration. "To rescueReagan from many of today's so-called Reaganites may help rescue America from the pride of its present follies," he adds. A significant book, if surely arguable in granting Reagan more depth and ability than most nonbelievers have hitherto suspected.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393060225
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/6/2007
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

John Patrick Diggins is the author of The Rise and Fall of the American Left and The Proud Decades: 1941–1960, in addition to biographies of John Adams and Max Weber. He is a distinguished professor of history at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Preface     xiii
Acknowledgments     xxiii
Introduction     1
The Political Romantic     19
From Huck Finn to Film Star     55
To Repent or Not to Repent: The Communist Controversy in Hollywood     81
Governor Reagan: The Golden State     117
A Reagan Revolution, or the End of Ideology?     155
Neoconservative Intellectuals and the Cold War     189
Into the Heart of Darkness: The Reagan Doctrine and the Third World     219
History as Tragedy, History as Farce     263
Politics, Economy, Society     303
From Deterrence to Dialogue: How the Cold War Ended     343
The Homeric Conclusion     399
A Coda: Slavery and Communism: Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan     415
Abbreviations for References     431
Notes     433
Bibliographical Note     459
Photograph Credits     465
Index     467
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2008

    This was cool

    i loved this book and how interesting it was

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