In a recent post, I praised the 19th-century journalist and essayist Walter Bagehot for his subtle mind and intellectual honesty. These qualities stand out because among the most difficult challenges in politics is not allowing truthful inquiry to become subordinate to one’s allegiance to a political cause, a political party, or a political ideology. It’s harder than we think, and rarer than we would wish, to find individuals who are open to a new set of facts, especially when they run counter to settled ways of thinking.
I thought about all this while recently watching an American Experience documentary on the life of Ronald Reagan. It covered a lot of ground, of course, but in the context of this discussion, one thing stood out: Reagan’s willingness to adjust his thinking in light of new circumstances. What I have in mind is Reagan’s attitude toward the Soviet Union.