Study Guide

Evil Empire Speech Quotes

By Ronald Reagan

  • Legacy of Evil

    I'm pleased to be here today with you who are keeping America great by keeping her good. Only through your work and prayers and those of millions of others can we hope to survive this perilous century and keep alive this experiment in liberty—this last, best hope of man. (30-31)

    Reagan believes American traditions—liberty, freedom, and acceptance—are nurtured and protected by the average person, someone who believes that, no matter what, the good spirit will endure and overcome all other dark happenings in the world. The average American is keeping America great by keep her good.

    Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal. (101)

    Throughout the speech, Ronnie looks at evil as a living, breathing thing—the kind of monster you thought for sure was under your bed when you were five. He does this to make it clear the monster is one we, the United States, have been fighting for essentially our entire history, and since we know exactly how to succeed in battle, we have to share our knowledge with other countries and help them defeat their own bad guys.

    The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past. (102)

    Glory of this land totally sounds like it should be in a song, right? Hum a jaunty tune and consider why Reagan talks about America's glory in relation to the bad stuff we've done. It's important to be honest about that stuff, for sure, but Reagan is using this speech to make it clear that America's greatness comes from our nation's ability to make changes when it's necessary, to recognize the power of faith and tradition, and use those things to keep ourselves and the rest of the world honest and good.

    […]I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation...to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil. (157).

    It would be so easy to attribute the issues in the nuclear arms race to a trigger-happy totalitarian regime, and ignore the underlying conflict between the good and evil. And it would be a mistake for the average person to underestimate the power he or she has in fighting back, because they problems are human issues, not just governmental disagreements.

    I believe this because the source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual. And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man. (165-166)

    Americans aren't interested in advocating for freedom because we get gold stars or pats on the back. The country was founded on the understanding that freedom should be a given, that all people have access to it simply because they're people. And Reagan believes such ideologies will always overcome the kind of governments that take advantage of their citizens.

  • Sin

    But we must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. (97-99)

    It's important to remember that when Reagan talks about sin, he's not just referencing communism and communist ideologies. The U.S. has done its own share of naughty things, and while the government has done its best to make up for it, sin will always be part of life. The best we can do is accept it, and try to make small changes as we go.

    There is sin and evil in the world, and we're enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might. (100)

    It would be really easy to look at this speech and shake your head at Reagan claiming that a little American spirit could rid the world of all the bad stuff. But Reagan wasn't trying to say all evil would disappear. In fact, in this quote, he recognizes the opposite. Evil is part of life, and will always exist, but as a country founded on the principles of the Scripture, Americans still have a duty to try and fight against it.

    I know that you've been horrified, as have I, by the resurgence of some hate groups preaching bigotry and prejudice. (106)

    Part of what makes this speech so influential, so important, is the way Reagan chooses to make his point. He doesn't stand up and talk about sin and evil without acknowledging that America has had her fair share big-time mess ups. Instead, he acknowledges that sin and evil exist in our past, and actually in the present, too, and that he's horrified by it. Those things together prove he knows what he's talking about.

    I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written. I believe this because the source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual. (165-166)

    Reagan's belief that the end of communism is near comes from not only his personal hopes for the future of the world, but also from a staunch understanding of the power of the human spirit. He doesn't think that type of cruelty, of blatant government oppression, is sustainable in any way, shape or form, and that the power of morals, of good people doing good things, will always overcome the bad stuff—even if it takes a little while.

  • Good vs. Evil

    Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the greatness and the genius of America. America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. (29)

    Reagan highlights this quote by Alexis de Tocqueville to emphasize that, at its core, America was founded on the belief that all people deserve to live safely and happily, exercising their rights in ways that do not trample on other people. That's what true equality is, and that's what makes America good. Without it, everything we stand for becomes a little less noble, a little more difficult to believe.

    Now, I'm sure that you must get discouraged at times, but you've done better than you know. There's a great spiritual awakening in America, a renewal of traditional values that have been the bedrock of America's goodness and greatness. (88-89)

    For a time, people were adamant that no one religion should be practiced in public, because not all Americans practiced one religion. Because of efforts to remain equal, and therefore remain good, the government took strides to separate church and state. However, Reagan notes that the lack of religion in public places has not undermined the faith of the average person—in fact, the opposite is true, and that is what has been keeping America so great, so strong in the face of other countries who would try and devalue U.S. principles.

    At the same time, however, they must be made to understand we will never compromise our principles and standards. We will never give away our freedom. (121-122)

    No offense to Ronnie, but Mel Gibson kind of said it best. Even so, our 40th president does still make a solid and important point. He believes the difference between good and evil comes down to not only what the good guys believe, but how they protect and share those beliefs with other people.

    Americans will never allow their traditions to become tokens thrown around in peace negotiations, because those traditions are the very foundation of peace, the very foundation of all that's good. We've never give those things away, because doing so would imply the evildoers have won, and that isn't ever going to be an option.

    [...] Some would have us accept them at their word and accommodate ourselves to their aggressive impulses. But if history teaches us anything, it teaches that simple-minded appeasement or wishful thinking about our adversaries is folly. It means the betrayal of our past, the squandering of our freedom. (152-154)

    Here's the crux of the issue: agreeing to a nuclear freeze would imply the United States, and therefore all democratic and free nations around the world, have something to fear from the communist countries. According to Reagan, that would be the absolute worst message to send, and history has proven that it doesn't even really work, so there has to be another, better solution.

    While America's military strength is important, let me add here that I've always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith. (159-160)

    A ton of the twentieth century involved various military conflicts around the world, with the U.S. military going into different countries to help the locals climb out of oppression and prosper as free, democratic nations. No matter how you feel about the military, it's easy to understand why those actions, however noble in their intent, weren't always received super well.

    Reagan had enlisted during World War II, had lived through Vietnam, and understood the blurry line between good and evil, especially where the American military muscle was concerned. Therefore, ideological problems between the U.S. and the Soviet Union needed ideological solutions.

  • Prayer and Religion

    The basis of those ideals and principles is a commitment to freedom and personal liberty that, itself, is grounded in the much deeper realization that freedom prospers only where the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly accepted. (24)

    Just like help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it, so too will freedom prosper where people avidly seek it.

    I want you to know that this administration is motivated by a political philosophy that sees the greatness of America in you, her people, and in your families, churches, neighborhoods, communities—the institutions that foster and nourish the values like concern for others and respect for the rule of law under God. (32)

    Reagan says that churches have long been a place where people go to practice goodness, and he wholeheartedly believes the American people, and their churches and communities, are the gatekeepers of all that makes America great. They preserve the basic foundations of liberty and democracy by promoting those principles in every aspect of their lives, and his administration is dedicated to bettering the world by doing the same thing.

    There's a great spiritual awakening in America, a renewal of the traditional values that have been the bedrock of America's goodness and greatness. (89)

    Sometimes going out with the old and in with the new sounds really good. In America's case, related to the presence of religion and tradition, Reagan believes the new stuff doesn't hold a candle to what once was—specifically, the focus on spirituality and other well-established values. In his view, those things were the very foundation of the United States of America, the principles we put to paper as the very definition of what it means to be an Americans, so those are the traditions we need to reinforce and pass along to overcome communism and other dark parts of our culture.

    I believe this because the source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual. And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man. (166-167)

    If you really think about it, a whole lot of what Reagan is saying comes back to learning from the mistakes of the past. He even says America's greatest strength is that exact thing, the ability to change something when it doesn't quite work the first time around. In the past, humans have sought to push their beliefs onto others because they wanted to control them, or control a piece of land. However, Reagan believes the western goal to bring democracy and true equality to communist countries comes from the simple desire to create peace for all people—and that's why it'll be successful.

  • Communism

    But we must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. (97-99)

    Reagan truly, wholeheartedly believes in the power of a good government, one that operates in the best interest of all people. However, he isn't naïve—there is evil in this world, and nothing will ever truly make it go away. That's not to say the American spirit doesn't have the power to really make a difference, but people need to operate with the understanding that nothing will ever truly make all the bad stuff go away.

    Especially in the last century, America has kept alight the torch of freedom, not just for ourselves but for millions of others around the world. (110)

    Now this one could totally be a wee bit controversial, depending on your point of view. In his speech, Reagan was very clear in saying the U.S. and the Soviet Union had, shall we say, different understandings of freedom, and that's largely why the two countries had a bit of an unhealthy relationship. The Soviet Union didn't want Americans help in preserving freedom, and they weren't alone. There were some countries during that time, as well as throughout U.S. history, that weren't exactly grateful for U.S. interference, even in the name of freedom, and this idea definitely contributed to the tensions during the Cold War.

    During my first press conference as President, in answer to a direct question, I pointed out that, as good Marxist-Leninists, the Soviet leaders have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is that which will further their cause, which is world revolution. (112)

    The Soviet Union was interested in becoming a superpower, in having great control of the world and passing on their practices and ideologies. In order to do that, they only subscribed to morals and beliefs that suited them, and according to Reagan, morality isn't like that. It isn't possible to only tune in once in a while and pick and choose the things that serve you. And that is why the Soviets hadn't been successful, and why they never would be.

    And then he said, for Marxism-Leninism is actually the second oldest faith, first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with the words of temptation, "Ye shall be as gods." (162)

    In communist countries, citizens have no time or space for religion, or belief in a higher power. This belief that men should consider themselves equal to or above an omnipotent being is part of the problem, because suddenly there aren't any consequences, nothing to fear. And that leads to lots of problems for everyone, those in the country, and those trying to work the country.