Ronald Reagan, Speech to the House of Commons (1982)What is the overall tone of this speech? Is it positive about the future?
The overall tone of this speech exhibits the eternal optimism associated with Ronald Reagan. He tells the House of Commons that in looking back over past decades, it may seem that
“Optimism comes less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy's enemies have refined their instruments of repression.”
Nevertheless, he tells them, there is hope for the future because “optimism is in order because day by day democracy is proving itself to be a not at all fragile flower.” He says that in 1982, the world was coming to the “end of a bloody century.” He argues that regimes that are established by “bayonets” do not take root and that ultimately, such violent regimes will fail, nevertheless, with modern nuclear weapons, we cannot ignore the threat from warlike regimes. The fine balance as we go into the future is to “preserve freedom as well as peace.”
It is his belief that all people everywhere want freedom, despite what dictators claim to the contrary. He specifically targets the Soviet Union. He says it is not wrong for the free nations to band together to achieve the goal of freedom and peace:
“Let us be shy no longer. Let us go to our strength. Let us offer hope. Let us tell the world that a new age is not only possible but probable.”
He refers to Winston Churchill’s comment during WWII towards the German attack: “What kind of people do they think we are?” Were the British people that would give up their freedom so easily without a fight? No! This is how we should proceed into the future, then, making sure our enemies know that freedom is important to us and that we are willing to fight to maintain it if necessary. We prefer to preserve our freedom through peaceful means, but we are not unwilling to preserve it by force if left no other choice. He says the world has come through the worst, and should move forward into the future by securing the best.
“For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny.”
Reagan did not foresee a future in which our enemy would be cowards, crashing planes into our buildings and blowing up our soldiers every day with IEDs and RPGs.
Clearly, this speech is very positive about the future. Reagan's main thesis in the speech is that communism is not going to be able to continue. He is arguing that democracy is going to win out because it is the morally superior system. So, in that sense, it is a positive speech.
I would also say that it is triumphalist. By this, I mean that it is a speech that is claiming inevitable victory and that is saying that the victory is inevitable because the West's system is superior. I think that this is the major tone of the speech -- it is a speech that boldly claims that democratic societies are simply better than communist ones and that the democracies will, therefore, win out in the end.
To me, a line that is pretty typical of the whole speech is where Reagan says that he is describing
the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.
The speech is positive for the future of America and the West. There is a great deal of positive belief and conviction that the "right" side will prevail. In contrast, Reagan does a good job of seeking to demonize the Communists and their beliefs. The fact that he goes as far as to call them "evil" and the subtitle of the speech is the "Evil Empire" speech is a part of this. Reagan could not merely configure the Communist side as an adversary, making this two forces pitted against one another. In strengthening ties with England, which was a must at the time, he had to essentially configure the Russians as evil and godless, a side that would lose because of historical inevitably and the "triumphant" notion of history that does not favor such a force. Reagan's tone in this light is positive for the capitalist democratic side and downright biblical against the other.