(CNSNews.com) - Libertarians who favor limited government and restraint of federal power were a vital component of President Ronald Reagan's political coalition, but they struggle to find a home in today's Republican Party, according to the author of a new book on the nation's 40th president.
Reagan, who was born 96 years ago on Tuesday, died in 2004.
When he took office in 1981, Reagan saw freedom under assault, not just from external forces such as the Soviet empire, but from an "intrusive federal bureaucracy" at home that jeopardized individual liberty and states' rights, said Edward Yager, author of "Ronald Reagan's Journey."
The very notion of "big government conservatism" would be an oxymoron to Reagan, who felt the dual threat of international communism and an unchecked federal bureaucracy "had to be addressed concurrently," Yager told Cybercast News Service .
Reagan's stance in favor of limited government resembled earlier anti-federalist arguments about the important place of states' rights in the constitutional order, writes Yager, an associate professor of political science at Western Kentucky University.
Reagan's arguments, moreover, "reactivated" Jeffersonian principles that had long been dormant in American political discourse.
Yager said he fears the libertarian view of government expressed by Reagan and Jefferson has been lost among congressional Republicans who have been complicit in accelerating federal spending.
This is the "fundamental difference" between Republicans today and the former president, Yager said. Too many Republicans on Capitol Hill are "indistinguishable" from Democrats in their embrace of big government, he charged.
According to the author, the Reagan coalition comprised three strands of intellectual thought -- libertarianism, traditionalism and anti-communism.
"Since Reagan's time, the social conservative wing has become ascendant, and the libertarian wing has diminished -- especially the libertarian wing focused upon the domestic scene," Yager said.
For that reason, the growth of intrusive federal government and the danger it poses to freedom is not getting the attention it deserves, he argued.
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