Ronald Reagan's Farewell Address

I was 12 when Reagan left office, old enough to remember the excitement of having met him the previous year, but not yet interested enough in politics to understand why he was special. Via TSI board member Joe Lonsdale's blog post, I just came across the text of his farewell address, and finally got, on an emotional level, what an unusual friend to liberty Reagan was.

For example, this passage is something we could use to remember in these dark days for America's reputation:

It was back in the early '80s, at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart, and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck and stood up and called out to him. He yelled, "Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man."

A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn't get out of his mind. And when I saw it, neither could I. Because that's what it was to be an American in the 1980s. We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again, and in a way, we ourselves rediscovered it.

On convincing by example:

Once you begin a great movement, there's no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.

Countries across the globe are turning to free markets and free speech and turning away from ideologies of the past. For them, the great rediscovery of the 1980s has been that, lo and behold, the moral way of government is the practical way of government: Democracy, the profoundly good, is also the profoundly productive.

A prediction that was vindicated by history:

Nothing is less free than pure communism, and yet we have, the past few years, forged a satisfying new closeness with the Soviet Union. I've been asked if this isn't a gamble, and my answer is no because we're basing our actions not on words but deeds. The detente of the 1970s was based not on actions but promises. They'd promise to treat their own people and the people of the world better. But the gulag was still the gulag, and the state was still expansionist, and they still waged proxy wars in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Well, this time, so far, it's different. President Gorbachev has brought about some internal democratic reforms and begun the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He has also freed prisoners whose names I've given him every time we've met.
My view is that President Gorbachev is different from previous Soviet leaders. I think he knows some of the things wrong with his society and is trying to fix them.

Good advice for people, as well as nations:

We'll continue to work to make sure that the Soviet Union that eventually emerges from this process is a less threatening one. What it all boils down to is this. I want the new closeness to continue. And it will, as long as we make it clear that we will continue to act in a certain way as long as they continue to act in a helpful manner. If and when they don't, at first pull your punches. If they persist, pull the plug. It's still trust but verify. It's still play, but cut the cards. It's still watch closely. And don't be afraid to see what you see.

On America's frontier origins and Seasteading:

The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the "shining city upon a hill." The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.

Thanks for the vision Ron. America's lost its way a bit, but we're working to build your shining city on the high seas.

UPDATE: You can watch or listen to the whole thing here.

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Reagan the Cosmotarian?

And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety.

...teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.

This Reagan fellow sounds like one of those leftist, cosmotarian open-borders types. He could learn a thing or two from a REAL Regan-Republican like Ron Paul.

Reagan's words

Most of us will judge Reagan's actions in office as a mixed picture, but wrt his rhetoric, no politician's words had a greater pro-freedom message since the Founders.

Empty rhetoric isn't necessarily a good thing

Pro-liberty rhetoric combined with anti-liberty actions doesn't seem to be a good thing. It just makes people suspicious of pro-liberty rhetoric, making it harder to actually institute pro-liberty actions in the future. This is what killed the concept of decentralization for many people - associating federalism, states' rights and secession with slavery, the Confederacy, and segregation.

Not disagreeing, but the

Not disagreeing, but the cases aren't analogous. There's hypocrisy in the former--anti-liberty actions are obviously not what pro-liberty rhetoric promises, but segregation, slavery, the Confederacy are all legitimate instances of decentralization--the examples are just unpalatable.

True, but if anything that

True, but if anything that seems to make Reagan look worse. On the other hand, there is still a strong dose of hypocrisy inherent in the pseudo-libertarian defenses of states' rights segregation and the Confederacy - the defense of a minority white segregationist culture against the powerful multiculturalist majority ignores the interests of the even less politically powerful minority - the blacks being subjugated.

I'm happy to provide your

I'm happy to provide your jumping off points.

I think you play the devil's

I think you play the devil's advocate so much because no one else will hire you.


Ooo, that's low.

Ooo, that's low.

What else would fights over federalism be about?

Soft and squishy mammals? Any fight over federalism will be about something that one side finds horrific. Any time the issue is whether or not a "supra-govt" structure uses force against a smaller structure, it will be about something contentious, whether it be the US's war with the Confederacy or the US's war with Baathist Iraq or the govt's raid of the polygamist compound.

As I've asked before, is it a surprise that racists used whatever means they had to promote their agenda?

Any future decentralization which we all (I think) hope for WILL HAVE unsavory characters campaigning for it, pumping money into it, and making grand speeches about it.

"This is what killed libertarianism - assocating it with drug dealers, loan sharks, and prostitutes!"

I prefer to change the argument to one about rules, not about people. When others make the fight be about people, i.e., "who are the bad guys?", I prefer to say, "Bad guys will always exist. The progressive question now is, 'What rule will bring about the most justice? What rule will bring about the best outcomes?'"

When someone says, "You're a libertarian. You only want to legalize drugs so that drug dealers can have free reign! You don't care about people getting addicted! I can't believe you're associating yourself with such bad people!" I say, "No, there will always be people who want to do drugs and people who want to sell drugs and people who are selfish and want to make a profit catering to our weaknesses. The best rules for minimizing violence, raising the quality of drugs for people who use them, and preserving our civil liberties is to legalize drugs."

Looking for bad guys is obselete. Look for good rules is progressive.


I think Scott probably mentioned, breaking promises is different from unsavory associations.

History and Culture

Yes, just like free speech, federalism is one of those things that only counts when people vehemently disagree with each other. But think about it from the perspective of history and culture. The Civil War was the first (and pretty much only) test case for secession. If there had been a long and rich history of individual states successfully seceding for various other, less-offensive (to the modern ear) reasons, the South might have been more successful in its attempt to secede without war, and people centuries later would be more favorable to the concept of secession and better able to distinguish the concept from its practitioners.

So too, had certain countries in Europe had a richer, more explicit culture of protecting minority speech, the sorts of anti-speech laws that arose after the Holocaust might never have been; alternatively, had the first major test case of the First Amendment in the U.S. been something as extremely unpopular as Holocaust denial, the First Amendment would probably not have lasted as long as it has.

Like it or not, most people have trouble distinguishing rules from people, so it's unfortunate that such extremely unsavory people were the first test-cases for those rules; rules seem to need time to develop under less extreme circumstances if they are to remain a solid part of the culture.

And it's unfortunate that Reagan was the first (and only) President to take modern libertarianism and run with it, in the wrong direction. Although, to be fair, one might say that part of getting elected President and remaining in office (and getting reelected) involves acting in ways inimical to freedom, regardless of rhetoric. Jefferson, too, had this problem. So it may be a bit much to expect a politician's actions to match their pro-freedom rhetoric; one shouldn't be looking for pro-freedom rhetoric from politicians in the first place, as it will necessarily be empty.

Public Choice

I prefer to change the argument to one about rules, not about people. [I prefer not to] make the fight be about people, i.e., "who are the bad guys?"

Another useful tact is to bring up Public Choice theory. It is always humbling to start with the assumption that under poor rules, we become the bad guys.


I'd like to see libertarians distance themselves from Reagan, not embrace him further.

Limited government? Not in the most important sense: the military one. When he left office government was bigger, not smaller, in absolute terms and no, the Dept. of Education had not been abolished. He was ALL rhetoric.

I agree with Ron(ald Reagan) on the open borders thing, but unfortunately that must be weighed with his contribution to the slaughter of Nicaragauan peasants and countless other illiberal imperial interventions that contributed to the mess we are in now, practically and morally.

The left already thinks Reagan is a racist homophobic (etc.) asshole, so don't even bother to "one up" Paul supporters by appealing to Reagan's supposed "cosmopolitanism".

Let's stop contributing to what Gene Healy calls the "cult of the presidency".

I disagree about military

I disagree about military being the most important sense. There's a reason why ancaps talk about "The National Defense Problem" - because it's one of the areas where the arguments for state control are the strongest. I don't think they are strong enough, but if I was abolishing parts of the government, the DOD would be among the last to completely go.

I think economic freedom is the most important, because it's the poor people who get screwed the worst on social freedoms. Money buys you a lawyer. And a house in a neighborhood where the cops are (mostly) on your side.

But it's true that his record is not as strong as his rhetoric.

Reagan was bad, bad, bad on

Reagan was bad, bad, bad on immigration. Can you say "Immigration Reform and Control Act" ?

More issues than immigration

Can you say "War on Drugs"?

I was answering to the

I was answering to the parent post claiming Reagan was pro-open borders. It's partly true but overall he did much more harm than good.

Otherwise, yes, war on drugs is terrible, and expensive. I would tend do believe however that protecting the freedom to work and live deserves much more priority than the freedom to use some recreational drugs. Just my opinion though.

More to the issue

My main concern isn't with using recreational drugs. It's that it was a means to militarize the police force.

It's a convenient way to get around posse comitatus. Got a rule against using the army for law enforcement? No problem, just convert the current police into another army.