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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reagan Libertarianism

From an interview with Ronald Reagan in the July 1975 issue of Reason magazine:

REAGAN: The very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is. Now, I can’t say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions. There is a legitimate need in an orderly society for some government to maintain freedom or we will have tyranny by individuals. The strongest man on the block will run the neighborhood. We have government to insure that we don’t each one of us have to carry a club to defend ourselves. But again, I stand on my statement that I think that libertarianism and conservatism are traveling the same path.

The first and most important thing is that government exists to protect us from each other. Government exists, of course, for the defense of the nation, and for the defense of the rights of the individual. Maybe we don’t all agree on some of the other accepted functions of government, such as fire departments and police departments–again the protection of the people.

REASON: Are you suggesting that fire departments would be a necessary and proper function of government?

REAGAN: Yes. I know that there was a time back in history in which fire departments were private and you insured your house and then had an emblem on the front of your house which identified which company was responsible for protecting it against fire. I believe today, because of the manner in which we live, that, you can make a pretty good case for our public fire departments–because there are very few ways that you can handle fire in one particular structure today without it representing a threat to others.

REASON: How would you distinguish “socialized” fire departments and “socialized” fire insurance companies? Or would you be in favor of socialized fire insurance also?

REAGAN: No. Nor am I in favor of socialized medicine. But, there’s bound to be a grey area, an area in there in which you ask is this government protecting us from ourselves or is this government protecting us from each other. I don’t believe in a government that protects us from ourselves. I have illustrated this many times by saying that I would recognize the right of government to say that someone who rode a motorcycle had to protect the public from himself by making certain provisions about his equipment and the motorcycle–the same as we do with an automobile. I disagree completely when government says that because of the number of head injuries from accidents with motorcycles that he should be forced to wear a helmet. I happen to think he’s stupid if he rides a motorcycle without a helmet, but that’s one of our sacred rights–to be stupid.

REASON: Would you allow anything to go by way of hard core pornography as long as there are willing and consensual buyers?

REAGAN: I didn’t want the picture industry doing it. I just think it’s bad business. But I’m opposed to outside censorship.

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