Ronald Reagan: Liberator of Nations
Ronald Reagan is now with them that rest. My land was given a new birth of freedom because Ronald Reagan saw that it was enslaved by an evil as great as there ever has been on earth. As president, he played a leading role in the liberation of half of Europe from communism. It is as a great liberator, more than for anything else, that it is fitting he be remembered. Renownèd indeed will be his grave.
Sixty years ago, as the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy, the communists began to occupy Eastern Europe. Liberty and slavery coexisted in a cold peace for decades. Then came Ronald Reagan. He understood, following Lincoln, that Europe and then the world would become all one thing, or all another. And he believed that his thing, because it was good, could triumph over the other, because it was evil.
For us who were born in communist countries, Ronald Reagan was great because he spoke unadorned truths. He understood what eluded the convoluted reasonings of cosmopolitan sophisticates and progressives on both sides of the Iron Curtain: that the communist system was evil, that it was impossible fully to pursue happiness under tyranny, that the continued existence of the Soviet block was an existential threat to the liberal democracies and the principles for which they stand, and, most importantly, that by the time he was elected president, it was both possible and prudent actively to work towards its 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 in the world.
Reagan was often attacked for giving simple solutions to complex problems. Sometimes his critics were right. Yet Reagan accepted the world as it was and tried to make it how it could be, unlike some today who see the world as it could be and act is if it already is. Reagan never succumbed to this temptation, and so, on the fundamental questions, he was the one who was right: his answers, 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 to his legacy 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, 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 to rule and be ruled in turn. And then, understanding all that, Reagan used the prosperity of America to destroy not only a regime but its ideological underpinnings by saying, simply, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Reagan understood and, most importantly, acted on the understanding, that a 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 that 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 in a new birth of freedom to the world, he helped ensure that, as Lincoln said so perfectly, "government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."
Goodbye Mr. President, you liberator of nations. You have outsoared the shadow of our night, and we tremble a little, feeling, secretly, that today the spirit of liberty is less secure than it was yesterday.
Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic, born in what was then the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, is managing editor of The National Interest and senior fellow at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. An earlier version of this essay appeared in National Review Online on June 6th.