Reagan Era

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The Reagan Era or Age of Reagan is the name historians apply to the last 30 years. Scholars left and right are reaching a consensus on the issue, with conservatives pleased and liberals grudgingly conceding.

Five factors were at work. First the failure of liberalism in the 1970s stunned and silenced liberals, who were already under heavy pressure from the far left. Second, that failure energized a new conservative coalition involving the Religious Right, the business community, and Americans alarmed by the decline in America's global position. Third, Reagan appeared at the right time with the right skills to mobilize conservatives, and lead the nation—and Congress—to support for his wide-ranging policies. Fourth, the policies worked, as the nation's great enemy the Soviet Union collapsed and vanished, and the economy at home surged forward. And finally the policies reflected the new national mode and thus became a permanent fixture that was largely accepted by moderate Democrats, especially President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.


Domestic policy


The Age of Reagan replaced the age of FDR. The liberal regime created by Roosevelt during the New Deal and sustained by Democrats with some help from liberal Republicans featured the welfare state and tight federal regulations of key sectors of the economy. The process of deregulation began in the mid 1970s, after the resignation of Richard Nixon, a Republican who was liberal on many New Deal issues. In the 1970s the Keynesian consensus among economists collapsed with when it could neither explain nor provide a remedy for stagflation (simultaneous high unemployment and high inflation). It was largely replaced by a conservative viewpoint heralded by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, which attacked Keynesianism in macroeconomic policy, and attacked regulation as well. The nation's move to the right in economics was also aided by the ineptitude of President Carter, which contributed to the public's collapsing confidence in the government's ability to deal with the nation's problems. Carter's failures fulfilled the conditions that allowed Reagan, as the leader of the conservative movement, to enter from stage right.

Deregulation, taxes and unleashing capitalism

Welfare State

Social issues and the Religious Right

Foreign Policy

Rollback of Communism

Spreading Democracy



By 2009 there was a growing consensus among scholars such that both conservative admirers and liberal critics agree that he has been the most influential president since the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, leaving his imprint on American politics, diplomacy, culture, and economics. for example "As of this writing, among academic historians, the Reagan revisionists—who view the 1980s as an era of mixed blessings at worst, and of great forward strides in some renditions—hold the field," reports one liberal historian.[1]

For more historiographical support see: Ehrman (2007), Troy (2009); Hayward (2009); Wilentz (2008).

See also

Further reading

  • Brownlee, W. Elliot and Hugh Davis Graham, eds. The Reagan Presidency: Pragmatic Conservatism and Its Legacies (2003)
  • Diggins, John. Ronald Reagan‎ (2008), 528 pages, by leading conservative historian.
  • Ehrman, John. The Eighties: America in the Age of Reagan. (2005), by conservative historian excerpt and text search
  • Flamm, Michael and John Ehrman. Debating the Reagan Presidency (2009), key issues explained; includes primary sources
  • Griscom Tom. "Core Ideas of the Reagan Presidency." In Thompson, ed., Leadership, 23-48.
  • Hayward, Steven F. The Age of Reagan, 1964-1980: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order (2001) excerpt and text search
  • Hayward, Steven F. The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution: 1980-1989 (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Langston, Thomas S. "Reassessing the Reagan Presidency," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 34, 2004 online edition
  • Levy, Peter B. Encyclopedia of the Reagan-Bush Years (1996), short articles online edition
  • Patterson, James T. Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush vs. Gore. (2005), standard scholarly synthesis of the era
  • Reeves, Richard. President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination (2005) detailed analysis by historian
  • Schmertz, Eric J. et al. eds. Ronald Reagan's America 2 Volumes (1997) articles by scholars and officeholders vol 1 onlinevol 2 online
  • Troy, Gill. The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Wilentz, Sean. The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008 (2008), major narrative history by liberal historian who says Reagan transformed America

Foreign policy

  • Busch, Andrew E.; "Ronald Reagan and the Defeat of the Soviet Empire" in Presidential Studies Quarterly. Vol: 27. Issue: 3. 1997. pp 451+. online edition by conservative
  • Dobson, Alan P. "The Reagan Administration, Economic Warfare, and Starting to Close down the Cold War." Diplomatic History(3): 531-556. Fulltext in SwetsWise, Ingenta and Ebsco. Argues Reagan's public rhetoric against the USSR was harsh and uncompromising, giving rise to the idea that his administration sought to employ a US defense buildup and NATO economic sanctions to bring about the collapse of the USSR. Yet many statements by Reagan and Shultz suggest they desired negotiation with the Soviets from a position of American strength, not the eventual demise of the USSR.
  • Garthoff, Raymond L. The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War (1994), detailed narrative by a liberal critic online edition
  • Haftendorn, Helga and Jakob Schissler, eds. The Reagan Administration: A Reconstruction of American Strength? Berlin: Walter de Guyer, 1988. by European scholars
  • Jeffrey W. Knopf, "Did Reagan Win the Cold War?" Strategic Insights, Volume III, Issue 8 (August 2004)
  • Lagon, Mark P. The Reagan Doctrine: Sources of American Conduct in the Cold War's Last Chapter (1994) online edition
  • Matlock, Jack. Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. (2004) by the US ambassador to Moscow excerpt and text search
  • Pach, Chester. "The Reagan Doctrine: Principle, Pragmatism, and Policy." Presidential Studies Quarterly(1): 75-88. Fulltext in SwetsWise and Ingenta; Reagan declared in 1985 that the U.S. should not "break faith" with anti-Communist resistance groups. However, his policies varied as differences in local conditions and US security interests produced divergent policies toward "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Mozambique, Angola, and Cambodia. online edition
  • Salla, Michael E. and Ralph Summy, eds. Why the Cold War Ended: A Range of Interpretations (1995). online edition
  • Suri, Jeremi. "Explaining the End of the Cold War: A New Historical Consensus?" Journal of Cold War Studies - Volume 4, Number 4, Fall 2002, pp. 60–92 in Project Muse
  • Wills, David C. The First War on Terrorism: Counter-Terrorism Policy during the Reagan Administration. (2004)

Domestic policies

  • Birnbaum Jeffrey H., and Alan S. Murray. Showdown at Gucci Gulch: Lawmakers, Lobbyists, and the Unlikely Triumph of Tax Reform. 1987.
  • Boskin Michael J. Reagan and the Economy: The Successes, Failures, and Unfinished Agenda. ICS Press, 1987.
  • Campagna; Anthony S. The Economy in the Reagan Years: The Economic Consequences of the Reagan Administrations Greenwood Press. 1994 online edition, by conservative
  • Goodman, Marshall R. Managing Regulatory Reform: The Reagan Strategy and Its Impact Praeger Publishers, 1987 online edition
  • Hulten Charles R. and Isabel V. Sawhill, eds. The Legacy of Reaganomics: Prospects for Long-Term Growth. (1994).
  • Kleinknecht, William. The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America (2009), an old leftist blames everything bad on RR but agrees that he dominates the era
  • Sahu, Anandi P. and Ronald L. Tracy; The Economic Legacy of the Reagan Years: Euphoria or Chaos? 1991 online edition

Politics and rhetoric

  • Berman William C. America's Right Turn: From Nixon to Bush. (1994).
  • Busch, Andrew E. Reagan's Victory: The Presidential Election of 1980 and the Rise of the Right, (2005) online review by Michael Barone
  • Cannon, Lou, and Carl M. Cannon. Reagan's Disciple: George W. Bush's Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy (2008) on the continuity of the Age of Reagan to 2008. excerpt and text search
  • Dunn, Charles W. The Future of Conservatism: Conflict and Consensus in the Post-Reagan Era (2007), essays by conservative scholars excerpt and text search
  • Kiewe, Amos, and Davis W. Houck. A Shining City on a Hill: Ronald Reagan's Economic Rhetoric, 1951-1989. (1991).
  • Longley, Kyle, Jeremy D. Mayer, Michael Schaller, and John W. Sloan. Deconstructing Reagan: Conservative Mythology and America’s Fortieth President, (2007) 150 pp.
  • Moore, Mark P. "Reagan's Quest for Freedom in the 1987 State of the Union Address." Western Journal of Communication 53 (1989): 52-65.
  • Muir, William Ker. The Bully Pulpit: The Presidential Leadership of Ronald Reagan (1992), examines his speeches
  • Phillips-Fein, Kim. Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Schulman, Bruce J. and Julian E. Zelizer. Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s (2008)
  • Sloan, John W. FDR and Reagan: Transformative Presidents With Clashing Visions (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Stuckey, Mary. Playing the Game: The Presidential Rhetoric of Ronald Reagan. 1990. online edition
  • Troy, Gill. Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s (2004). Study of Reagan's image.
  • Wallison, Peter J. Ronald Reagan: The Power of Conviction and the Success of His Presidency. (2003). 282 pp.
  • Wapshott, Nicholas. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: a political marriage‎ (2007) 336 pages excerpt and text search
  • Weiler, Michael, and W. Barnett Pearce; Reagan and Public Discourse in America (1992) online edition


  • Ponce de Leon, Charles L. "The New Historiography of the 1980s" in Reviews in American History, Volume 36, Number 2, June 2008, pp. 303–314
  • Strub, ; Whitney. "Further into the Right: The Ever-Expanding Historiography of the U.S. New Right," Journal of Social History, Volume 42, Number 1, Fall 2008, pp. 183–194
  • Phillips-Fein, Kim. "Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and Making of History," Enterprise & Society, Volume 8, Number 4, December 2007, pp. 986–988.


  1. Doug Rossinow, "Talking Points Memo," in American Quarterly 59.4 (2007) p. 1279.