On this sad day, it’s heartening to read the great words left by President Reagan. As a conservative, Reagan is a giant among men. His defenses of conservatism were based on a firm intellectual tradition, but moreover, they were based on a sense of boundless optimism. For instance, this passage from A Time for Choosing gives an incredibly concise yet eloquent explanation of what conservatism is all about.
This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
You and I are told we must choose between a left and right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age-old dream-the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, “The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.”
The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing.
Indeed, to borrow a phrase from Jefferson, Reagan had sworn eternal hositility to all forms of tyranny against the mind of man. His eloqent defenses for his beliefs weren’t apologia, they were a statement in the belief that freedom was innate to the human condition, and that any system that denied freedom was not ideology – it was a manifestation of evil.
A Time for Choosing is one of the most brilliant statements of the core of conservatism that has ever been written. It is as relevant today as it was at the time it was written — if not even more so.