I was bemused by George Will’s rave for John Patrick Diggins’ new book on Reagan. I haven’t read it—or any other book by Diggins. But I expressed my own view of Reagan’s debt to the founders, and his effort to revive their principles, here at NRO. Could be I had Reagan all wrong. Somehow I guess I missed his closet transcendentalism.
Now I might buy some trouble around these parts, but I have to say that Will’s reflexive approval of anyone who agrees with him that “Edmund Burke [was] the founder of modern conservatism” is by now a kind of phone-it-in act. It shouldn’t be too surprising that Ronald Reagan had little evident attachment to Edmund Burke and liked to quote Thomas Paine. First, because no one in America seems to have thought of Burke as the “founder of conservatism” until about the mid-twentieth century (that’s why it’s called “modern conservatism”), by which time Reagan was a fully-formed adult working out his own ideas. And second, because Paine was unequivocally on the side of the American Revolution, was indeed a hero of it, while Burke was at best a lukewarm sympathizer in the enemy’s ranks. (Their subsequent alignments on opposite sides of the French Revolution would be another matter.) And Ronald Reagan was most assuredly a child of the American Revolution, from whose genuinely revolutionary principles sprang his authentically American conservatism.
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