Sunday, June 13, 2004


In my recent comment on the Leftist claim that Reagan was a peacenik, I pointed out that his negotiations with Gorbachev over nuclear disarmament were in no way Leftist-inspired but rather an example of good conservative pragmatism -- something Gorbachev himself perceived. It is interesting that Kesler's survey of American conservatism in the 20th century also identifies American conservatives generally as being overwhelmingly and repeatedly pragmatic and little concerned with or unified by broad theoretical systems -- though Kesler, as a believer in natural-law morality, deplores that. Excerpts:

"it is possible to have conservatives without having a unified conservative movement. Indeed, this was the situation in America before the mid-1950s. If it is not quite the plight of conservatives today, it may soon be again... Meyer's fusionism thus missed many of the hard questions about morality and politics.... The overwhelming practical imperative was to resist liberalism at home and defeat Communism abroad, and it would have been wrong to try to insist on other principles or conditions for such a necessary alliance... More and more, conservatism lacks a common message or focus, and the education it offers citizens and politicians is splintered into myriad discussions of specific policies."

The word "pragmatic" however, is a rather broad term and it could be held to imply a total lack of principles. I think that Reagan himself is the best demonstration that that is not so. His was the most principled pragmatism one could imagine. Everything he did was calculated to get the best possible deal for the individual. His goals and principles could not have been clearer or more firmly-founded. And who would deny that getting both the USA and the USSR to scrap all nuclear weapons would have been a tremendous victory for the individual? As a true conservative, Reagan had guiding values but he was very flexible about the means of attaining them. Conservatives go by what works but they go by what works in the service of the individual.

Another point I explore elsewhere is that the association between love of individual liberty and pragmatism is no accident. The two attitudes are in fact related.


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