"An Empire of Ideals": The Chimeric Imagination of Ronald Reagan

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"An Empire of Ideals": The Chimeric Imagination of Ronald Reagan

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Title: "An Empire of Ideals": The Chimeric Imagination of Ronald Reagan
Author: Garrison, Justin David
Abstract: As president, Ronald Reagan was widely viewed as an embodiment of the American spirit. In his presidential speeches, Reagan conveyed a vision of America and its people that proved compelling to most Americans. More than most presidents, he appealed to the imagination of his listeners. His intuitive sense of reality continues to shape the way Americans see themselves and understand politics. This dissertation examines Reagan's imagination as it was expressed chiefly in his presidential speeches. Employing a traditional hermeneutical technique, it focuses on the general character and specific components of the strongest, most pervasive part of his imagination--its "chimeric" dimension. The latter is characterized by prominent elements of optimism, naiveté, and illusion. The dissertation carefully defines "imagination" and explains its central role in politics. Reagan spoke often about religion, democracy, freedom, conservatism, communism, progress, America's role in the world, the American people, the American Founding, and peace. These are for him important symbols, and together they express his vision. The dissertation explores and analyzes these and other symbols in depth. The primary source material is Reagan's presidential speeches, as elucidated by biographical information and other Reagan writings. The secondary source material includes scholarly works on Reagan. The interpretive apparatus draws upon the ideas of Irving Babbitt, Benedetto Croce, and Eric Voegelin. The dissertation relates Reagan's vision to important elements of American and Western political thought. The study reaches a number of conclusions about Reagan's imagination and the implications for politics of his type of vision. Many aspects of his intuition resonate with political progressives and philosophical romantics such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Woodrow Wilson, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Reagan's relationship with traditional conservatism, as represented by Edmund Burke and leading American Founders, is tenuous at best. Perhaps most surprising, his strong condemnations of Karl Marx notwithstanding, his vision has much in common with important Marxist ideas. The political theories of both men have strong elements of "gnosticism," as Voegelin defines that term. In general, Reagan's imagination contains many dubious elements that present serious problems for politics. The fondness of Americans for his vision suggests a problematic self-understanding.
Description: Degree awarded: Ph.D. Politics. The Catholic University of AmericaThis dissertation can be viewed by CUA users only.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1961/11502
Date: 2012-09-11

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