At best, however, Reagan took America two or three steps back from the six steps forward that had been made by the Progressive crowd since the 1910s. Moreover, in some important respects, much of Reagan’s economic legacy has been undone over the past 15 years. But perhaps America’s greatest strength in resisting economic Europeanization is the fact that it remains what John Courtney Murray called a “propositional nation.”
By this, Murray meant that America not only has the capacity to renew itself by going back to its roots, which are formally identified in its founding documents, but had also demonstrated a willingness to do so. Few West European nations have shown a similar ability, not least because of so many Europeans’ diffidence about the worth of their own heritage.
So while thinking about questions such as how to connect Hispanics to the conservative cause without compromising the principles of that cause is important, even more significant in the struggle to bring America’s economy back from the brink of perpetual Eurostagnation is what some call “the vision thing.” That means undertaking something that, with some notable exceptions, many conservatives and free-marketers haven’t proved spectacularly good at: grounding sound market arguments upon a moral-cultural vision of what America is supposed to be.
Number-crunchers who think anything that can’t be quantified doesn’t exist won’t be excited by this. Nor, I suspect, will those conservatives disinclined to interest themselves in the messy details of supply and demand. Nonetheless, building and articulating the vision thing must be part of the way we persuade Americans who are tempted by the false promise of little work, nanny states, and endless intervention that Europeanization is not just economically and morally problematic — it’s also downright un-American.