The so-called conservative legacy of Reagan and a defense of Lew Rockwell Jr.

History will be the judge of Reagan’s Presidency, both the good and bad. Again it will be 30 years from now before a more fair and balanced assessment can be made about his Presidency, 50 years or more after it ended. It’s critically important now though to engage some of the myths and legends being perpetuated about Reagan.

Why the U.S.S.R. collapsed is more complex than just saying or alluding to that Reagan was the cause, as if he was the sole and only cause of its collapse. There were many factors, which include the following: an over-extension of their foreign policy (i.e. Afghanistan), Pope John Paul II, a sustained multi-decade U.S. foreign policy against Communism, a deeply flawed internal economic and political system, and an ideology which collapsed in on itself. All of these factors and many others help to bring an end to the Soviet Union. Did Reagan help the Soviets to reach their culminating point? Yes. He gave them one of the final pushes over the edge of the cliff before their collapse. He deserves at best partial or minimal credit for its demise.

One can argue that the economic successes that Reagan achieved could be largely credited to the Fed. Chairman, Paul Volcker, who was appointed by President Carter. Many justify the irresponsibility and lack of discipline in Reagan’s fiscal policies by stating that this was necessary because of the need to win the Cold War. Fair enough. Reagan was a war hawk. No one will debate you here about that. What you must admit though is that spending money you don’t have is not “conservative.” Putting that burden of large deficits and debt which quadrupled under his administration on future Presidents (i.e. Clinton) and future generations of Americans is not being a fully responsible or prudent. Reagan was no fiscal hawk. He simply was not fiscally conservative.

In the comments of a previous post I briefly talked about Reagan’s decline of health after he was shot. Allow me to clarify and expand on that point. Reagan entered the Presidency late in life. In fact he was oldest person to ever enter the Oval Office in the entire history of the U.S. Presidency. The stresses of that job ages even the best of men who enter at a much younger age. After he was shot his health began to noticeably decline. Over his tenure he went through several surgeries to remove cancer cells, enlarge prostrate, etc. Consider his age. His body was beginning to fall apart. The humor and grit though that he showed throughout all these operations was amazing, but what before was a more engaged and vibrant leader became less so as time progressed. Many of the problems of his administration could have been possibly prevented or stopped had Reagan been more actively engaged and not managed by others. The very serious decline of his health due to Alzheimer’s disease became more well known after he left the Presidency. The love Nancy showed for her husband was an amazing witness to the world. That’s why I consider Nancy to be a saint.

Many of the Supreme Court Justices that Reagan appointed were/are highly questionable. Look at the Pro-Abortion and Pro-Gay Right Justices that he appointed ~ Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy. Refer to another of his nominees, the pot smoking Douglas Ginsburg. Were any of these folks conservative? If they were why did Reagan receive such blow-back from conservatives regarding them? Bork and Scalia are good men so at best his Judiciary record is mixed.

As JFK proved to the world in his debate against Nixon, you must be a “show-man” in the modern Presidency. Reagan was a natural. He used wit and humor to lift folks up and demolish others. He was a great motivator, a great coach, and a great communicator. In an era when there a general funk overhanging people’s heads, he help to lift or dissipate that fog. Perception is reality. He must be given credit where credit is due.

In a previous post I called William F. Buckley a neoconservative. This was improper or at least not entirely accurate. He did not support the Iraq war. I stand corrected. My confusion lies in the fact that some columnists at the National Review did strongly support the war, i.e. Victor Davis Hanson, etc. I should spend some time in studying the thought and writings of the man himself. Maybe he’s not so bad of a fellow.

Related to correcting some of the Neoconservatism which finds a home on the pages of the National Review I previously recommended two books and I received some blow-back on them. I recognize the decision to go to war and conduct war is a matter of prudence. I recognize the autonomy of the temporal order. This decision rests with the President and his Joint Chiefs of Staff. Reading Neo-conned and Neo-conned Again helps to flesh out the Just War Theory in a contemporary setting. Many of the contributors are rock-solid Catholics whose opinions matter. These books will challenge the preconceptions and assumptions of many conservatives, especially the war hawks or neoconservatives. As lay Catholics though we need to better understand how to apply the Just War Theory, therefore I consider these books mandatory reading for any Catholics who take their faith and their role of the laity seriously, especially those that have an interest in national security, foreign affairs and international relations.

Some on this website have questioned Murray Rothbard’s and other Libertarians’ position(s) on Life. This questioning and concern is valid. This is a question I have been asking for a while. Is Libertarian ethics compatible with Catholic social ethics? Refer to the links of videos and articles that I put on Joe’s post related to this matter.

To totally discount the thought of Rothbard is an over reaction though. For example, his writings on the economic history of the late Scholastics is good work. Refer here to get just a small sampling.

Criticism against Justin Raimondo has also been given in the comments on this website. Is Justin Raimondo a perfect person? No. His active and practicing homosexual lifestyle should bring concern to all of us. More importantly his leaving the faith is of deep and grave concern. Let us pray for him. But he’s a conservative and a frequent contributor to both Chronicles Magazine and TakiMag which are both well respected conservative publications. I would argue ISI is the premier conservative organization in the country today. Their re-printing of his Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement should be taken as a serious and credible endorsement of this book by the finest conservative organization in existence today.

It’s important to engage the charges that Lew Rockwell Jr. is a neo-Confederate or anti-Semite. Let us analyze these charges. First, I would simply ask folks who make this charge for their evidence. Show me. Without first seeing your evidence first I will say this though.

The government derives its power from the governed, at least in the American experiment. If a person, a group of people, or an entire region elects to succeed this is their right. As it is to nullify unjust and unfair infringements of their rights as well. Refer to Dr. Tom Wood’s new book on this topic. I suspect folks make this neo-Confederate rant because of the thought of Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo who is promoted on He’s a scholarly critic of Abraham Lincoln and of the common history most folks learn in public school, as is Dr. Tom Woods as well. Many people are happy to be steeped in ignorance and choose not to dig deeper into topics. Dr. DiLorenzo forces people, scholars and non-scholars alike, to wake up out of their slumber. I applaud his work and you should as well.

We live in a fallen world. Too often people create idols which are either people or things. Here in America folks many times try to turn certain Presidents into semi-gods, demiurges. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan come to mind. It’s more than just a healthy respect, but something deeper. One could call it idol worship or secular paganism. As Catholics we should reject this common American custom.

The charge of anyone being anti-Semitic is a much overused term today. It should simply mean folks who are being racist against the Jews. It does not mean folks who disagree with the hyper aggressive policies and practices of the nation-state of Israel. I will cite one example to consider, the USS Liberty incident, which has been covered on

Watch what Rabbi Daniel Lapin has to say about Lew Rockwell Jr., Murray Rothbard and the Mises Inst. His complete talk is one well worth listening to or watching in its entirety.

Lew Rockwell Jr. is a conservative, maybe best described as a paleo-libertarian, but a conservative never the less. His conservative credentials goes decades long. He worked at Hillsdale College for many years before he helped to co-found the Mises Inst. Hillsdale College is the premier conservative college in existence today. It is the home, the mother-ship, of conservatism. To begin to understand the history and complexities of him refer to the links below.

Wikipedia – Lew Rockwell

Wikipedia –

An Interview of Lew Rockwell Jr.

Granted, Lew is not a Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or William Kristol conservative, but their pro-war positions put their so-called conservatism into question as well. Refer no farther than the thought of Russell Kirk himself.

I think the greatest lessons learned in this dialog which occurs at The American Catholic are the following ones. Friends should provide correction when necessary. Friends should also challenge us to see more of reality. Many times its hard to break-out of our preconceived notions or beliefs about various matters. Friends help us to go deeper into reality. Christ is who makes our friendship possible. It is in Him we are united.

Related Posts:

Right All Along

November 9, 1989

A Union of Conservatives and Libertarians?

Libertarianism vs. Catholicism

Thomas Woods and His Critics, The Austrian vs. Distributist Debate Among Catholics

6 Responses to The so-called conservative legacy of Reagan and a defense of Lew Rockwell Jr.

  • You lose your argument as soon as you call Reagan a “war hawk”. Any cursory understanding of Reagan’s policy demonstrates that his sole desire was peace – but he understood that peace can only be made two ways: by abject surrender, or by sufficient strength to deter an aggressor. If you are trying to convince, its best not to start with a factually incorrect statement.

  • Mark,

    A war hawk, a defense hawk, a military hawk all mean the same thing. It’s far from controversial to say Reagan promoted a strong defense and military.

    “He expanded the U.S. military budget to a staggering 43% increase over the total expenditure during the height of the Vietnam war. That meant the increase of tens of thousands of troops, more weapons and equipment, not to mention a beefed-up intelligence program.”

    The Reagan Doctrine, which was a strategy of peace through strength meant a highly aggressive foreign policy.

    At best this could be considered a “neoconservative” approach to defense spending and foreign affairs, but it was not a traditional understanding of what it means to be truly conservative in these matters.

    Reagan was a pragmatist. He did what he thought he had to do to defeat the Soviets. Fine, but he was not being conservative, neither militarily nor budgetary, to achieve these ends.

  • David,

    I am unaware that a bedrock, conservative principle is disarmament. Nor am I aware of a provision of conservatism which considers active attempts to destroy a deadly enemy beyond the pale.

    You’re calling Reagan a war hawk because you want conservatism to be a certain thing – but that certain thing has never been conservative. At best, it is reactionary – and a reaction based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the world and how it works. A truer conservatism is one which does the actually conservative thing – preserve what is best out of the past in order that it may be used for the benefit of the people in the present. Reagan strove for that – and was very successful. That his legacy was flubbed by his successors doesn’t alter his achievement, nor make it non-conservative.

  • Where to start?

    Ronald Reagan was given to magical thinking on the subject of fiscal policy, a tendency whose promoters at the time were Arthur Laffer and Jack Kemp. It was regrettably thereafter the default setting within the Republican Party, and Republican politicos either believe this mess or feel compelled to pretend in front of their public that they do.

    David Stockman once gave Mr. Reagan a set of exercise sheets where he could indicate his preferred level of spending reduction across the whole gamut of federal programs. He worked on the exercises for days. At the conclusion, Stockman tallies it up and tells him that if he gets all his desired reductions out of Congress, the government will likely run $800 bn worth of deficits over the succeeding five years; or a mean of about 4% of GDP each year. David Stockman asks him if he would consider a tax increase. No, David, it is deficit spending that’s the problem.

    You could argue about whether this sort of behavior was ‘conservative’ or not. In fact it is not, but it is not only in the sense you use to the term to describe the disposition of accountants. In the sense that you use it to describe politicians or political commentators, to say it is not conservative would be non sequitur. Reagan was not being a faux conservative. He was being pig-headed. The appropriate descriptive terminology is psychological, not political.

    In fairness to Reagan, at no time after 1982 was a majority of each chamber of the federal legislature well disposed to his political program, and at no time did the Republican Party have control of the organizational machinery of the House of Representatives. Congress was so dysfunctional it could not pass appropriations bills and was reduced to funding the government through catch-all continuing resolutions. Your complaints about his judicial appointments are invalid. The Reagan Administration was far more meticulous than the Nixon Administration about vetting its appointees, but they all had to get past a U.S. Senate with its inane parliamentary rules and the replacement for Lewis Powell had to get past said chamber controlled by the opposition party and in the context of a dirty and demagogic propaganda campaign against one of their nominees.

    Where the administration could proceed administratively, it was able to produce important policy changes – most notably in the area of broadcast regulation.

    With regard to monetary policy, the central bank in the United States is formally independent. In practice, the chairman of the Federal Reserve is generally a team player. There are one or two instances where William Martin was known to be defiant to the administration in office, but that is the exception. When Paul Volcker was appointed, he announced that the Federal Reserve would be seeking to contain the growth of monetary aggregates rather than set interest rate targets. After five months, Jimmy Carter et al insisted he change course because they did not want to face a recession in an election year. Ergo, Mr. Volcker substituted a set of ineffective credit controls and inflation ran on unabated. He was able to re-institute controls on the growth of monetary aggregates when Mr. Reagan came into office and the President told him explicitly that he had the administration’s full support in so doing. Within two years, most of the inflation had been wrung out.

    With regard to questions of foreign policy and the military, Mr. Reagan made one correct judgment call after another in every realm outside the near east. That is not to say that there were not errors and messy loose ends in the process. It is to say that in the macro-conflict with Soviet Russia and in the micro-conflicts in Latin America the Administration followed a course of action which succeeded without qualification and (one can infer) understood the situation in a manner the ever so self-satisfied opposition did not. Andrew Bacevich will not ever have the grace to admit Elliot Abrams was right and Col. Bacevich and the New York Times were wrong, but it is true nevertheless. You cannot take that away from Reagan and his subordinates.

    As I have said in the past, the term ‘neo-conservative’ makes little sense unless applied to the coterie associated with the Committee for the Free World, &c. It is a term suitable for petty intellectual history, not for a description of the current scene. What you are calling ‘neo-conservative’ is simply the main body of thought within the Republican Party as it has evolved incrementally over the last sixty-odd years. The Rockford Institute et al have promoted a competing strand the signature elements of which are the promotion of a selection of policies favored within the Republican Party during the inter-war period, policies largely abandoned by the main body of the Republican Party seventy years ago, policies which had no notable advocates after 1958. A liberal critic of Ron Paul gave the most succinct description of the man: not a libertarian but a parody of an early 20th century politician. These characters have gone around saying a Jewish cabal has hijacked their movement when their movement did not exist prior to 1986.

  • Anyone who thinks or believes a national leader whose number one priority is to protect the citizens and to that end sets out to establish the most powerful defense system available to him makes him a “war hawk” needs help understanding the term “common sense”. That’s the kind of thinking that breeds hatred for police officers and all our armed forces personnel who dedicate their lives to protecting us. Anything less is an invitation to the desires of cowards and terrorists. That is reality and that is what Reagan dealt with so well.

  • Ronald Reagan was far from a perfect man and his two Administrations were far from perfect. However, I consider them to be better than any other administration in my lifetime and I am 47.

    Reagan assumed responsibility for massive problems the USA faced in 1981. The country was mired in stagflation. The steel industry in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio had begun to die. The auto industry was in deep trouble. The stock market was floundering. The military was weak and the USSR was on the move. The communists had won in southeast Asia and were making advances in Latin America (Nicaragua) and in Africa. The USSR had invaded Afghanistan and suppressed Solidarity.

    Volcker raised interest rates, causing unemployment to reach nearly 11%, but inflation was squeezed out of the economy. Reagan’s tax rate reductions started in 1981 and kicked in fully by 1983. The stock market took off in the fall of 1982 and unemployment steadily decreased through most of the rest of the 1980s. The tax rate reductions spurred economic growth. In 1980, the federal government took in about $500 billion in tax revenue. by 1992, the amount of revenue was $950 billion.

    Deficits? Reagan’s deficits? Why are they not Tip O’Neill’s deficits? O’Neill, the classic blowhard spendthrift politician so justifiably lampooned in the old comic strip Shoe as Senator Belfry, did not care what his programs cost in taxes or red ink and he would not have cut a government program under any circumstances. It is fair and true to state that we did not have a balanced budget until after the GOP took over the House in 1995. Sure, Reagan increased military spending. It was necessary.

    Reagan lived before the USSR was established and he lived to see it fall. Detente and accomodation did nothing to stop the USSR. Standing up to them was the only thing that ever worked. The Stinger missiles sent to the Afghans, the clandestine help supplied to Solidarity…these were only two things out of many the Reagan Administration did to bring down the USSR.

    The “Star Wars” missile defense so often criticized and lampooned struck fear in the Communists. It did not matter if it worked or not. The USSR believed it could.

    Paul Kengor’s book (which I loaned to a friend and have nor received it back) clearly documents many of the activities undertaken to undermine the USSR. French intelligence warned the Reagan Administration of USSR industrial espionage. At the time, Western Europe wanted to by Soviet natural gas and would not be dissuaded from doing so. It was set up to allow the USSR to steal technology that was designed to fail. While the gas pipeline was being built, an explosion took place in Siberia so large it was witnessed by spy sattelites. It was built using the stolen defective technology.

    Reagan’s faults were minor compared to Carter, Clinton, or the current White House occupant. I blame the Democrat Party for the deficits. Actually, I blame the Democrat Party for a lot of things because I find them to be socialistic big-spending abortionist cowards, but that is my opinion.

    Inflation was beaten.
    Employment increased.
    Communism fell in Eastern Europe.
    The USSR – the most evil state to have ever existed – disintegrated.

    Reagan was a success. Not a complete success, but a success. Anyone who thinks another Carter term would have been better is nuts.

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