Ronald Reagan Fate, freedom, and the making of history

John P. Diggins

Book - 2007

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2nd Floor 973.927/Diggins Due Sep 3, 2022
Subjects
Published
New York : W.W. Norton & Co c2007.
Edition
1st ed
Language
English
Physical Description
493 p.
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
0393060225
9780393060225
Main Author
John P. Diggins (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Because Reagan has been misinterpreted by both the Right and the Left, his legacy in American political history has been distorted and undervalued, according to Diggins, author of The Rise and Fall of the American Left (1992). Contrary to liberal opinions, Reagan was no philosophical lightweight, nor was he the moral absolutist lauded by conservatives. He was a man of consistent beliefs, forged during the cold war. In his efforts to end the cold war, he was closer to liberals who always thought it possible than to conservatives who didn't believe it could ever be done. Reagan was "the only president in American history to have resolved a sustained, deadly international confrontation without going to war," defying liberal expectations of him personally and conservative expectations of the value of diplomacy. Reagan rejected the authority of religion as much as government. By convincing Americans to believe in themselves, Reagan demonstrated the duality of American political culture, that it is both liberal and conservative. This is a thoughtful book for both Reagan admirers and critics. ((Reviewed February 15, 2007)) Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Diggins (CUNY Graduate Center) concludes surprisingly that Ronald Reagan may be "after Lincoln, one of the two or three truly great presidents in American history." His argument is as surprising as his conclusion, for he rejects the rationale offered by the neoconservatives who claim to be Reagan's heirs. Instead, the author asserts that Reagan's greatest achievement came because he rejected the martial advice of the neocons. Like Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan guided the nation through a momentous crisis--the intertwined threats of communism and nuclear war--but of the three, only he did so through negotiation rather than warfare. No ideologue, Diggins makes no attempt to defend Reagan's record on such matters as budget deficits, Grenada, and Iran-Contra. Instead, he roots his interpretation in Reagan's philosophy, derived in his view from the individualism of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the anti-statist arguments of Thomas Paine, and the anti-communism of Whitaker Chambers. Reagan's admirers will find something unexpected here, and, in fact, Diggins criticizes them for being "more interested in celebration than explanation." Indeed, there is plenty in this thoughtful, unconventional, original biography that will provoke both Reagan's critics and defenders; Diggins shifts the field of debate on Reagan's legacy. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. Copyright 2007 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

CUNY historian Diggins argues that Reagan was a great President who hasn't been given a fair shake by the liberals dominating the teaching of U.S. history. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

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 [Page 143]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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.) [Page 44]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"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.--From publisher description."--From source other than the Library of CongressA reevaluation of the late president argues that his accomplishments were marginalized by liberal biases and places Reagan among the nation's greatest leaders, offering insight into the more sophisticated endeavors of his presidency.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A reevaluation of the late president argues that his accomplishments were marginalized by liberal biases and places Reagan among the nation's greatest leaders, offering insight into the more sophisticated endeavors of his presidency.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A reevaluation of the late fortieth president argues that his accomplishments were marginalized by liberal biases and places Reagan among the nation's greatest leaders, offering insight into the more sophisticated endeavors of his presidency while discussing such topics as his negotiations with Gorbachev, his opposition to foreign interventions, and his distrust of big government.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

Diggins (history, City U. of New York Graduate Center) has crafted a generally hagiographic, though not entirely uncritical, account of the life of Ronald Reagan, portraying the former president as a "romantic Emersonian" and descendant of Thomas Paine. He discusses the politics of Reagan's tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild and as Governor of California, but naturally focuses on his eight years as president, especially lauding Reagan's decision to ignore the advice of his neoconservative advisers and instead work with Mikhail Gorbachev to bring the Cold War to a peaceful end. While the Cold War and foreign policy receive the most attention, Diggins does include an approving discussion of Reagan's domestic economic and social policies. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 5

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.

Review by Publisher Summary 6

Affirming Reagan's position as one of America's greatest presidents, this is a bold and philosophical reevaluation.

Review by Publisher Summary 7

Affirming Reagan's position as one of America's greatest presidents, this is a bold and philosophical reevaluation.

Review by Publisher Summary 8

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.