Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ronald Reagan on libertarianism

Somebody on YouTube made a great find when they recently uploaded a portion of what appears to be an interview of Ronald Reagan and 60 Minutes from the 1970s.  It's well worth the 44 seconds to watch.

Said the interviewer "...a conservative is no longer just that, he is a libertarian..." to which Reagan interjected to say "always has been".

Ronald Reagan's views on libertarianism are not known by the public on a large scale, however an interview of Reagan in 1975, a few months after his term as Governor of California ended, was conducted by the libertarian Reason magazine and shed much light on his philosophical underpinnings.

Here is some selected dialogue from that interview:

REASON: Governor Reagan, you have been quoted in the press as saying that you’re doing a lot of speaking now on behalf of the philosophy of conservatism and libertarianism. Is there a difference between the two?
REAGAN: If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals–if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.
Now, I can’t say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions. There is a legitimate need in an orderly society for some government to maintain freedom or we will have tyranny by individuals. The strongest man on the block will run the neighborhood. We have government to insure that we don’t each one of us have to carry a club to defend ourselves. But again, I stand on my statement that I think that libertarianism and conservatism are travelling the same path.
 REASON: Governor, could you give us some examples of what you would consider to be proper functions of government?
 REAGAN: Well, the first and most important thing is that government exists to protect us from each other. Government exists, of course, for the defense of the nation, and for the defense of the rights of the individual. Maybe we don’t all agree on some of the other accepted functions of government, such as fire departments and police departments–again the protection of the people.
 REASON: Are there any particular books or authors or economists that have been influential in terms of your intellectual development?
 REAGAN: Oh, it would be hard for me to pinpoint anything in that category. I’m an inveterate reader. Bastiat and von Mises, and Hayek and Hazlitt–I’m one for the classical economists....
Later, Reagan espoused the same views in his 1981 CPAC speech.
There are so many people and institutions who come to mind for their role in the success we celebrate tonight. Intellectual leaders like Russell Kirk, Friedrich Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, Milton Friedman, James Burnham, Ludwig von Mises -- they shaped so much of our thoughts.
It's especially hard to believe that it was only a decade ago, on a cold April day on a small hill in upstate New York, that another of these great thinkers, Frank Meyer, was buried. He'd made the awful journey that so many others had: He pulled himself from the clutches of "The God That Failed," and then in his writing fashioned a vigorous new synthesis of traditional and libertarian thought -- a synthesis that is today recognized by many as modern conservatism.
 With every Republican vying to be the best example of a "Reagan conservative", this old information brought to light will mean that the neoconservatives and moderates will have to choose somebody else's mantle to claim.

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