The Reagan Moral VisionREV. ROBERT A. SIRICO
The passing of President Ronald Reagan into eternity is evoking an array of emotions and thoughts. People recall his winsome and shining character, his classic American optimism. That is in sharp contrast to what his critics always assailed as his intellectual shallowness.
how does one account for the monumental legacy President Reagan’s time with us
has left, not merely the United States, but the whole world?
At the end
of the 1970s, a period when the turmoil and disruption of the 1960s might have
begun to take institutional root (indeed, the cultural toll that sorry decade
took is something with which we are still living), there providentially arose
on the world scene three leaders whose common moral perspective would change the
course of human history.
In 1978, Karol Wojtyla, Krakow’s philosopher-archbishop
was elected pope, taking the name John Paul II.
In 1979, a shopkeeper’s
daughter by the name of Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of England.
And in 1981 a former actor became President of the United States.
These three towering figures, each with modest beginnings, ascended the world
stage at a critical moment. Their common link was neither their respective nationalities,
nor their faith tradition, nor even their politics. It was a common moral understanding
that bound these three, uniting them in what seemed to some at the time a rather
fantastical, even dangerous vision. Specifically, the pope, the prime minister
and the president were clear about two things: the moral reprehensibility of communism
and the moral necessity of replacing it with institutions of liberty.
We must remember that those considered at the time to be the smartest political
analysts — whether in Rome, London or Washington — all accepted the
notion that communism was a fixed feature of geo-politics that simply had to be
realistically dealt with and contained to the extent possible.
with Reagan, Thatcher and Wojtyla. Their shared moral idea was sufficiently grand
to enable them to envision a world without a Europe divided by a wall. Not a utopian
vision, but an understanding of the dignity of the human person, made in the image
of God, and entrusted with a destiny beyond this world.
It may have appeared
to many that President Reagan was too simple an intellect to be entrusted with
such military might. That is not what those who knew him well tell me. It seems,
rather, that the sunny warrior for freedom simply understood how to “major on
majors and minor on minors,” as the saying goes. In other words, he had an uncanny
ability to prioritize, focus, delegate tasks and inspire a world to choose a path
away from the road to serfdom.
I suggest that President Reagan possessed
what many of the more "sophisticated" members of the "white wine and brie set"
so clearly lack: a clear sense of moral priority. He would not be distracted from
pursuing that moral priority despite the snickering and nay-saying, the disparagement
and vile ridicule heaped upon him by the cultural elite.
Reagan won over the hearts of a world is seen by the profusion of gratitude pouring
forth, especially from those who lived so long under the stern boot of collectivist
There was one other cultural note that might have been missed.
After listening to the news reports Saturday evening of the president’s passing,
I tuned my radio to the left-leaning National Public Radio, when Garrison Keillor’s
A Prairie Home Companion was broadcasting live. Keillor, who consistently
identifies himself as a "liberal" and has a large left-leaning following, announced
the passing of the president to the audience. The reaction was audible sighs,
gaps and sadness. Then one could hear a single voice in the audience beginning
to hoot and cheer, as though attempting to rouse the audience.
to his credit, with great finesse and timing worthy of President Reagan himself,
simply continued his tribute, marginalizing the hooting bore by going into a touching
gospel song in tribute to the president.
Just that — simple respect
from a self-professed liberal. And on NPR!
In case we have forgotten
that President Reagan played a critical role in the collapse of communism, perhaps
this episode of A Prairie Home Companion will remind us that he really
did change the world — and for the better.
I had the great honor
of personally meeting each of the towering personalities noted at the outset of
this meditation. But my visit more than a decade ago with President Reagan in
his Los Angeles office was memorable for the legendary kindness he showed Acton
Executive Director Kris Mauren and myself. The great man expressed to us his gratitude
for the work of the Acton Institute, which in many ways was made possible by the
legacy he left to the world.
President Reagan now stands before the great
and holy Judge whom each of us will confront one day. He does so having left the
world a better and more prosperous place for having passed through it. May the
same be said for each of us one day.
Rest well, Mr. President, from all
your labors. May you be embraced by mercy.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico. "The Reagan Moral Vision." The
Acton Institute (June 8, 2004).
Reprinted with permission of the author
Rev. Robert A. Sirico.
Father Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. As president of the Acton Institute, Fr. Sirico lectures at colleges, universities, and business organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad. His writings on religious, political, economic, and social matters are published in a variety of journals, including: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the London Financial Times, the Washington Times, the Detroit News, and National Review. Father Sirico is often called upon by members of the broadcast media for statements regarding economics, civil rights, and issues of religious concern, and has provided commentary for CNN, ABC, the BBC, NPR, and CBS' 60 Minutes, among others. He is the author or co-author of
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