From Publishers Weekly
A professor of history at the City University of New York Graduate Center, Diggins (The Rise and Fall of the American Left
) provides an original reappraisal of Ronald Reagan from the conservative perspective. Throughout, Diggins discovers nuances that have heretofore escaped notice by most other Reagan scholars. For example: in appraising Reagan's reaction as California governor to '60s radicals, Diggins is the first writer to acknowledge the extent to which the onetime movie star shared common ground with rebels on campuses nationwide. Reagan, with his reverence for Thomas Paine and passion for limiting the reach of government, was—on at least one level—more than sympathetic when Berkeley protesters chanted, "Two, Four, Six, Eight, Organize to Smash the State!" Although a fan of Reagan's, Diggins doesn't hesitate to be critical—as when he discusses Reagan's attitude as president toward environmental issues, which Diggins characterizes as "puzzling" and "disastrous." (Diggins notes that Reagan's record as governor of California, where he allied himself with old guard Republican conservationists, was far more environmentally-friendly.) Overall, Diggins does a superb job of tracing Reagan's intellectual development from old school New Dealer to thoughtful, Emersonian libertarian, and also firmly establishes Reagan's credentials as a major architect of communism's final collapse. 13 photos. (Feb.)
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Because Reagan has been misinterpreted by both the Right and the Left, his legacy in American political history has been distorted and undervalued, according to Diggins, author of The Rise and Fall of the American Left
(1992). Contrary to liberal opinions, Reagan was no philosophical lightweight, nor was he the moral absolutist lauded by conservatives. He was a man of consistent beliefs, forged during the cold war. In his efforts to end the cold war, he was closer to liberals who always thought it possible than to conservatives who didn't believe it could ever be done. Reagan was "the only president in American history to have resolved a sustained, deadly international confrontation without going to war," defying liberal expectations of him personally and conservative expectations of the value of diplomacy. Reagan rejected the authority of religion as much as government. By convincing Americans to believe in themselves, Reagan demonstrated the duality of American political culture, that it is both liberal and conservative. This is a thoughtful book for both Reagan admirers and critics. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved