Study Guide

Evil Empire Speech Themes

By Ronald Reagan

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  • Legacy of Evil

    What's super interesting about Ronnie's discussion on the legacy of evil is it almost becomes a character in and of itself. He says that when evil doesn't succeed, it takes a time out and comes up with a new game plan to attack in a different way. Practice makes perfect, after all.

    Let's be clear: our ancestors weren't always the good guys, but we learned from our mistakes and Ronnie believed America and her traditions were the future. It becomes our job to help other people learn from the past to create lasting peace. And Reagan says in "The Evil Empire" that the best way to do that was to pray for change, and then act on it.

    Questions About Legacy of Evil

    1. What events/happenings in U.S. history does Reagan highlight to emphasize the "legacy of evil" in the country? Why do you think he chose those things?
    2. In line 11, Reagan quotes Abraham Lincoln. What is the significance of that quote to Ronnie's discussion of the legacy of evil in the United States?
    3. Does the president's discussion of prayer in the beginning of the speech help him make his point later by the end? Why or why not?
    4. Why do you think Reagan discusses mostly social issues in describing America's legacy of evil?

    Chew on This

    By using this speech to label it as an "evil empire," President Reagan contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union and changed the world.

    Reagan suggests that change always comes from within, which is ignoring large swathes of history in which change came from without.

  • Sin

    Here's the thing about sin: everybody does it. In "The Evil Empire," President Reagan was super honest about America's sins—and about the lessons we learned from them.

    Humans aren't perfect (except for Emma Watson, probably), but Ronnie's says that doesn't matter if we learn from our mistakes, and try to prevent similar injustices in the future. He believed, along with many other westerners, that communism was evil, a sin, and it was the responsibility of those in the know to try and fix it.

    Questions About Sin

    1. At the beginning of his speech, Reagan tells a funny anecdote about a politician arriving in heaven. Why did he choose make that joke?
    2. What is Reagan trying to accomplish by detailing all the ways religion is still part of government procedures?
    3. Why does Reagan compare communism to the original temptation in the Garden of Eden in line 162? What point is he trying to make?

    Chew on This

    Ronald Reagan believed the most dangerous part of the Soviet Union was its atheistic ideologies.

    The sins in America's history are absolved because the nation has taken time to acknowledge them, and make amends.

  • Good vs. Evil

    It sounds super cliché, but at a basic level, people totally viewed the issues between the U.S. and the Soviet Union as the age-old battle between good and evil. The Soviets didn't believe in freedom of the press, or freedom of speech, or freedom of religion—any of those things sound familiar?

    Think about all we had to do to get those basic human rights, and it makes sense why Americans wanted to go all Avada Kedavra on the type of government that had the cojones to oppress their people. President Reagan, as a devout Catholic and the leader of the free world, felt he wouldn't be doing his job if he chose not to stand up and speak out against the evil happening in the Evil Empire—er, Soviet Union.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. Do you believe Reagan's argument applies to current conflicts overseas, that American principles will be the key to solving problems? Why or why not?
    2. How does Reagan justify the U.S. as "good guys" with all the bad things happening the country? Do you see any comparisons between those issues, and the things we're still talking about today?
    3. In line 120, Reagan talks about how the western nations had access to nuclear weapons, and chose not to use them. How does his argument contribute to the U.S. as the good guys, and the Soviets as the bad guys?
    4. Reagan doesn't believe true triumph over evil ever really takes place on the battlefield. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Reagan's Evil Empire speech was motivated not so much by his duty as president of the United States as by his personal and spiritual motivations.

    One of the duties of the president of the United States is to model and encourage what is understood to be "good" behavior.

  • Prayer and Religion

    Bon Jovi said it best—at the end of the day, we're all just livin' on a prayer.

    President Reagan definitely believed in the power of prayer. He talks about it a lot throughout "The Evil Empire," emphasizing that many American traditions and ideologies are rooted in religion, including the belief that all people should live and practice their chosen faith freely.

    Religion has always been part of American tradition, and the principles of justice, love, acceptance, and goodness have roots in the religion. Reagan believes those things are key to solving problems with aggressive totalitarian governments, and the American spirit will overcome the bad guys who refuse to acknowledge the consequences of their actions.

    Questions About Prayer and Religion

    1. Name some of the religious principles that are also considered American principles.
    2. In line 33, Reagan addresses "modern-day secularism" in our society. Do you agree with what he's saying? Why or why not?
    3. In line 168, Reagan quotes Isaiah: "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no night He increased strength. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary." Who do you think Reagan is talking about?
    4. Do you think the audience, the National Association of Evangelists, influenced the content of this speech? How do you think the speech may have changed if Reagan was addressing a different crowd?

    Chew on This

    Ronald Reagan believes a nation without religion cannot truly be good and just.

    The power of prayer, and of American morals, is not enough to fix the problems with the Soviet Union if its people don't want to work for change.

  • Communism

    What exactly is communism?

    Think back to kindergarten, when you were required to share your toys with everybody—even that one girl, Alexis, who "borrowed" your red crayon and broke it. (We're still mad at Alexis.)

    It all comes down to equality, which is essentially the foundation of communism: everything is shared equally, and the government owns and controls almost everything. Which, if you think about the American economic system (competition), you can see why there were some basic philosophical disagreements.

    In "The Evil Empire," Ronnie's saying we need to put an end to the evil that is communism, to stop oppressive governments from breaking the red crayons of their people. What's important, though, is he didn't focus on how perfect America was—he opened the Burn Book and was really honest about our history to prove we could learn from our past and make things better for everyone.

    Questions About Communism

    1. Why do you think Reagan waited to address issues of communism and nuclear arms until the end of his speech?
    2. Do you agree with Reagan that "the real crisis we a spiritual one?" (160) Why or why not? Do you see any parallels with what is happening in the world today?
    3. What is Reagan's stance on the nuclear freeze? Do you agree with him?
    4. In line 165, Reagan says, "I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written." Why do you think he believes communism is coming to an end?

    Chew on This

    The biggest ideological difference between communism and American democracy comes down to the interpretation of what it means to be equal.

    Thomas Paine said, "We have it within our power to begin the world over again." In his speech, Reagan says the only way to change the world is to practice American ideologies everywhere.

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