Justin D. Garrison provides an original and groundbreaking analysis of Ronald Reagan’s imagination as it was expressed mainly in his presidential speeches. He argues that the predominant strain of Reagan’s imagination is "chimeric," that is, imbued with a high degree of optimism, romantic dreaminess, naiveté, and illusion.
Reagan spoke often about religion, democracy, freedom, conservatism, progress, America’s role in the world, the American people, the American Founding, and peace. These are for him important symbols, which together express his general vision of politics and human existence. These symbols have to be analyzed in depth in order to understand who Reagan really was and what he represented to his admirers. The book concludes that Reagan’s vision contains many dubious elements that present dangers for practical politics and claims that the popularity of Reagan’s imagination among Americans suggests a problematic self-understanding.
Surpassing, existing works on Reagan’s ideas and speeches, this book systematically explains the general quality and major components of Reagan’s vision, and it draws upon political theory, aesthetics, and American political thought to analyze his imagination.
"Garrison has produced the most penetrating and finest analysis of Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric. His findings are bound to surprise many and even shock some."
—George W. Carey, Georgetown University
"Justin Garrison's highly original work explodes conventional categorizations about Ronald Reagan's politics and governing philosophy. Using Reagan's own words, Garrison makes the provocative, yet ultimately convincing, case that the icon of modern conservatism was actually an adherent of the ideas of a variety of thinkers, including even leading progressive ones. I commend this work to scholars and students of the presidency, rhetoric, and political philosophy."
—Mark J. Rozell, George Mason University
Introduction: The Enduring Appeal and Importance of Ronald Reagan’s Imagination. 1. Ronald Reagan: A Biographical Sketch 2. The Imagination: A Philosophical Elucidation 3. ‘A Talent for Happiness’: Ronald Reagan, Optimism, and Politics 4. ‘I Hear America Singing’: Ronald Reagan and the American People 5. ‘The Mystic Chords of Memory’: Ronald Reagan and the American Revolution 6. ‘Puzzle Palaces on the Potomac’: Ronald Reagan and Contemporary American Government 7. ‘A Crusade for Freedom’: Ronald Reagan and America’s Role in the World 8. ‘A Cathedral of Peace’: Ronald Reagan and Peace Among Nations 9. ‘The Land of Limitless Possibilities’: Ronald Reagan, Progress, Technology, and America 10. ‘A Shining City Upon a Hill’: Ronald Reagan, Religion, and America. Conclusion: An Empire of Illusions? The Chimeric Imagination of Ronald Reagan