Europe and the Reagan Years

Courtesy Reuters

The 1980s have been a good decade for the West. For the United States and for Europe alike they have been years of growing prosperity, reassurance and stability. The 1960s were a decade of illusion and baseless fantasies of utopia; the 1970s were a decade of disillusion, shattered hopes and rising fears. The 1980s have been a decade of realism, in which the affairs of the world, and of the West in particular, have been placed on a firmer, more concrete foundation.

These years have been marked, above all, by a return of confidence in the disciplines and rewards of the market system and a corresponding collapse of faith in collectivist solutions and the capacity of command economies to deliver. Capitalism seems to have recovered its entrepreneurial vigor. Marxist socialism appears to be dying, except perhaps in that home of lost causes, the university campus.

In all these developments Ronald Reagan has played a significant role: sometimes mostly as a symbol or figurehead, sometimes as active agent. It is impossible to imagine the 1980s without him. Future historians may call it the Thatcher Decade; they may even be tempted to call it the Gorbachev Decade. But it is far more likely, in my view, that they will settle for the Reagan Years. For it is the genial character of this unusual man, reflecting his attractive blend of naivety and wisdom, which has given an unmistakable coloring to a decade in which the peoples of the West felt better off and more secure.

This is more than a subjective impression; it is based on solid reasons. We have learned one lesson in the last half-century: the well-being of the world depends, above all, on the sensible pursuit of common aims by the United States and the free European peoples. That the Japanese are rapidly transforming this relationship into a triangular one goes without saying. But the U.S.-European axis remains the fulcrum of stability, and the Europeans know it: it is

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