It’s likely that, by the time Ronald Reagan passed away this Saturday, he had long forgotten what he accomplished in this world. But his was a great life, and the world will never forget his speeches and his deeds.
For the nations that lived under Communist tyranny, Ronald Reagan was great because he spoke unadorned truths. He understood what eluded the convoluted reasoning of cosmopolitan sophisticates and progressives on both sides of the Iron Curtain: that the Communist system was evil; that it was impossible to pursue happiness fully under tyranny; that the continued existence of the Soviet bloc was an existential threat to the United States and the principles for which it stands; and, most importantly, that by the time he was elected president, it was both possible and prudent to actively work toward the USSR’s destruction. “Peace through strength” was the phrase, and he knew that life in a world at peace in liberty would be better than one at peace in tyranny. And that made all the difference.
Reagan was often attacked for offering simple solutions to complex problems. Sometimes his critics were right. But on the fundamental questions, he was the correct one: His answers, and his views, were not simple in the sense of simple-minded. They were simple in the sense that they were clear. Evil was evil. Tyranny was tyranny. Freedom was freedom.
It matters little that most people in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere in the old Soviet sphere were materially, perhaps even spiritually, better off in the last decade of Communism than they are now. What matters is that Reagan believed, correctly, that we, subjects of Communist regimes, could never determine our own destiny while we lived under the hammer and the sickle. That many of us have, since the fall of Communism, chosen to live hedonistically and immoderately, is understandable–for a life dedicated to virtuous actions cannot be lived without the necessary equipment: namely, the habits we can hope to acquire in a regime where citizens can live in ordered liberty. Reagan understood that liberal democracy was such a regime–he famously termed it “the last best hope of man on earth”–in part because commerce could flourish throughout the land. With commerce comes prosperity, with prosperity comes the possibility to live leisurely, liberally, and thus acquire the security to accept the responsibility of ruling, and to be ruled in turn. And then, understanding all that, Reagan used the prosperity of America to destroy a regime dedicated to the proposition that its governing principle led to prosperity, to the “workers’ paradise,” to the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Ronald Reagan, then–for us who were born in tyranny–will always be remembered as the man who gave us back our free will. When he challenged Gorbachev in 1987 to tear down the Berlin Wall, he knew that tyranny could not hold itself up without that physical symbol of the Iron Curtain. He understood that the Berlin Wall was an essential pillar of Communist tyranny in Europe.
Reagan understood–and, most importantly, acted on–this understanding: that dictatorship in the name of anything was slavery, and that freedom in the pursuit of happiness was indispensable. That the American people elected him to the only office in which he could help liberate us from tyranny is a testament to their good character as a nation, and a testament to the nobility of the regime that formed them.
We will not forget Reagan’s courage to accord his deeds as president with the principles upon which his country was founded, for he helped bring a rebirth of freedom to the world. He helped ensure that, as Lincoln said so perfectly, “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Goodbye, Mr. President, liberator of nations. We look up at the heavens with confidence that, as you have “slipped the surly bonds of earth,” you now “touch the face of God.”