To start this week’s books, here is a new biography of Ronald Reagan from the University of Nebraska Press, Ronald Reagan: An Intellectual Biography, by David Byrne (California Baptist University). The book highlights the role that Christianity played in Reagan’s worldview, particularly, the author says, the Christian concept of “a universal kingdom of God.” This puzzles me: Christianity and universalism don’t really go together. I wonder if what the author means is the American tendency, which Tocqueville recognized, to downplay religious difference in the name of equality. The “Kingdom of Freedom” the author describes, in other words, might be a bit more American than Christian. But then, again to cite Tocqueville, Americans have always conflated Christianity and liberty. Readers can judge for themselves. Here’s the description of the book from the publisher’s website:
In this ambitious work David T. Byrne analyzes the ideas that informed Ronald Reagan’s political philosophy and policies. Rather than appraising Reagan’s personal and emotional life, Byrne’s intellectual biography goes one step further; it establishes a rationale for the former president’s motives, discussing how thinkers such as Plato and Adam Smith influenced him. Byrne points to three historical forces that shaped Reagan’s political philosophy: Christian values, particularly the concept of a universal kingdom of God; America’s firm belief in freedom as the greatest political value and its aversion to strong centralized government; and the appeasement era of World War II, which stimulated Reagan’s aggressive and confrontational foreign policy.
Byrne’s account of the fortieth president augments previous work on Reagan with a new model for understanding him. Byrne shows how Reagan took conservatism and the Republican Party in a new direction, departing from the traditional conservatism of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. His desire to spread a “Kingdom of Freedom” both at home and abroad changed America’s political landscape forever and inspired a new conservatism that persists to this day.