Ronald Reagan Was An Unreconstructed Liberal

Reagan, speaking to the UN in 1987:

“In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”

No, that wouldn’t happen. That is optimistic to a Pollyannish level. Perhaps if there were massed invading ships so that there was no question that it was a hostile invading force, this would be so. Yet we have seen this throughout history, and human beings actually don’t act that way.

The Romans hired outside tribes along the frontier to fight other invaders, and sometimes brought them to the center of Empire to fight their own internal struggles for power.  Goths, Huns, Allemani, Franks, Vandals…and these are the very tribes that lead to their undoing.  The leftover Romano-Britons brought in Saxons, Angles, and other tribes to help them in their fights against each other. Now the whole place is named Angle-land, England. Various Muslim tribes were happy to ally with the Crusaders against Seljuks or Sassanids they thought were more worrisome, and the Crusaders with Muslims.  The Native tribes of New England tried to use their connections with the English settlers to push each other around, though some preferred to ally with the Dutch or French, and thus, eventually, the French & Indian War was inevitable. Later natives in the Central Plains and westward were happy to use the expanding Americans against the dreaded Comanches. Now all those tribes identify together and wish they had made a unified stand early on.  The Romans eventually came to that conclusion as well.

Arriving aliens might arrive for trade, or exploration, or as some raiding party. Wherever they landed first would form a relationship with them and be perfectly happy to use them to their advantage against Terrestrial enemies. Bilbo thought an invasion of dragons might do the Shire good, and that could be accurate. But that’s a single people, not one among many.

16 thoughts on “Ronald Reagan Was An Unreconstructed Liberal”

  1. There’s also the example of France during the period between the wars. Two of the leading political leaders of the 1930s were Edouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud. Conversation between Reynaud and the writer Andre Maurois, early in 1940:

    “Nevertheless,” (Maurois) said, “Daladier is certainly a man who loves his country.”

    “Yes,” Reynaud said, “I believe he desires the victory of France, but he desires my defeat even more.”

  2. Reagan was indeed a classical liberal when it came to economic matters, but before we give him the liberal of the century award, there’s a few things that may disqualify him. At the same time Reagan was musing about uniting humanity he was also fighting a de facto war against Iran in the Persian Gulf. In fact, on that same day of that speech, a SEAL team attacked an Iranian ship laying mines.

    Other things- the 600 ship navy, the defense build up, and deploying missiles in West Germany – might suggest he was speaking aspirationally to appeal to his audience.

  3. Makes you wonder why no alien has shown up, so far… With thinking like that being common, you’d have to be a damned idiot to play into it all, and the idea of a unified humanity is probably at least locally terrifying.

    Unlikely, however, that any such thing would happen. As fractious as we humans are, the idea that someone wouldn’t seek advantage by alliance with the alien is far more likely, and if they alien played their cards right, they could probably wind up doing pretty much what Britain did in India.

    Not a likely prospect, either–As isolated as we are in interstellar terms, I don’t think anyone is coming any time soon. Neither to save us nor destroy us–We’re on our own, as frightening as that prospect may be to a lot of us.

  4. I don’t know if they go as far as the Vogons, and blow the whole place up, but they would probably engage in some kind of bombardment program, like in Independence Day.

  5. @ Grurray – tHAT’S Fair. My dramatic headline was mostly for effect. Yet i do think he believed that the peoples of the earth would unify if there were an alien invasion, and used that with Mr. Gorbachev to establish some commonality. It might be more aspirational than woolly-headed, but it’s still just not so.

  6. I was going to be a smart aleck and post this picture of another unrepentant liberal signing a treaty in 1928 with naive universalist intent that read

    all the other nations of the world will join in this humane endeavor and by adhering to the present Treaty as soon as it comes into force bring their peoples within the scope of its beneficent provisions, thus uniting the civilized nations of the world in a common renunciation of war as an instrument of their national policy

    then I remembered that Nancy’s astrologer often set the president’s schedule during those last few years in office. Combine that with the Big Guy’s proclivities for spinning a good yarn, and you are probably right that he felt strongly about the subject.

  7. By the way, a key difference between the Romans and the later Byzantines is that the former brought in barbarian tribes whole hog. Barbarians were given their own land and allowed to stay organized as they saw fit. The result was that the western part of the empire lost their Roman identity and eventually collapsed.

    The eastern Byzantines, with rougher terrain and fewer navigable rivers, were able to absorb and break apart newcomers. Barbarian fighters were quickly conscripted into the Byzantine military, separated, and scattered to the opposite frontier from which they arrived from. Their leaders were brought to the capital, Constantinople, where they either quickly assimilated into the imperial court or disappeared from history.

    Consequently, while the greater Roman Empire had only a few good centuries, the smaller, more cohesive Byzantines lasted for over a millenium. They retained their Roman identity so well that it lasted past their dissolution. The Ottoman sultan kept the title Caesar, and his Christians subjects were still legally designated as Romans until the Ottamans themselves fell after World War I.

  8. I suspect the “Global Warming” claims are an effort to provide the nations a common enemy to battle, a moral equivalent of war into which resources must be poured, while various national (or even, individual) interests are to be set aside “for the duration”.

  9. OL, how, amongst this intellectually elite group, does no one mention the Greek City-States? They united sometimes vs. overt invaders (“The 300”), but for the most part they just fought amongst each other even in the face of Alexander and Rome. This is a classic example of humanity not uniting.

  10. Human unity has its own subsidiarity, a la “I, against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” That’s not a bad thing, in general. The unity at higher levels usually kicks in when facing an existential crisis, if an outsider comes in who can help you against your peer competitor, you all try to make a deal to advance your own interests, if they come in to kill you, you all unite. Hence the “Global Warming” hysterics, as mentioned above. If the French had thought that the Germans were going to exterminate them, they would (probably) have unified more, the way the Poles did, though the fact that France had never really resolved internal conflicts over 150+ years says maybe not.
    I think a lot has to do with whether your culture is optimistic and confident about its status and prospects–Republican Rome and late Imperial Rome weren’t really the same place. Unfortunately 21st century America isn’t at all the same place as early to mid 20th century America.

  11. Pouncer, I think it’s much simpler – and more pernicious – than that. The global warming nonsense is a cudgel with which to beat the Western powers over the head, hobble their economies, and to mobilize the cognitively disenfranchised, all thereby to weaken the West for revolution.

    In the short term, I suspect it was promoted to buttress the Soviet, now Russian, economy, which relies heavily on exports of petroleum and natural gas for much-needed foreign exchange.

  12. OL, how, amongst this intellectually elite group, does no one mention the Greek City-States?

    There were also confederations of Medieval communes, such as the Lombard League, an alliance of the disparate cities and regions of the Italian Peninsula against the Holy Roman Empire. Although, that too devolved into civil wars between the Mercantalists who supported the Pope and Aristocrats who supported the German Emperor.

    Another small scale confederation of convenience that springs to mind was the so-called Freedom of the Friese. The notoriously independent inhabitants of the Low countries would unite against the occasional barbarian incursion or manorial oppression. They also had the absolute nuclear family structure popular in the Anglosphere. My wife is a Frisian, so I can confirm the intransigence runs deep in these folk.

  13. “My wife is a Frisian, so I can confirm the intransigence runs deep in these folk.”

    That is hilarious, I guess I married one too. I thought she was mostly German and English, but it might be gender related as well. She and I do tend to unite when confronted by a common external threat. We just disagree on how to combat it.


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