Yesterday evening, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum , author of the recent book Gulag, spoke to the DC chapter of the Fulbright Alumni Association.
Her point was that there is now a struggle going on for the Reagan legacy.
Applebaum made a case for Reagan as an ideological Cold Warrior, who understood the importance of communication, and supported the work of people like Melvin Lasky, whose biography is linked above.
Melvin Lasky was instrumental in the CIA-funded Congress on Cultural Freedom, and editor of the CIA-supported Encounter magazine until 1990. Applebaum joked the journal's closure was a casualty of the end of the cold war.
Applebaum said America needs more international cultural programs, criticized cutbacks in exchange programs, and called for a renewed emphasis on reaching out to intellectuals in Europe and around the world. Her conclusion: America needs a new Melvin Lasky.
This was also the thrust of an oped Applebaum published in the Washington Post not long ago. One might disagree with her prescription--CIA funding eventually blew up in the face of Encounter and the CCF, damaging their credibility; one could argue that the left did win the battle of the intellectuals, that it was popular entertainment programs like "Dallas" that had a greater effect in showing up Communism (reason: freedom is more fun than slavery), yet clearly intellectual elites do play a significant role, one which needs to be understood.
Applebaum's was a provocative talk, and it was good to hear someone in Washington taking culture and intellectual ideas seriously.
Her bottom line: that America is in a war of ideas with Islamist fundamentalism.
How one goes about fighting that war of ideas can be debated, but Applebaum is correct to point out that one of Reagan's legacies is that he was serious about the Cold War being a clash of ideas. Hearing her talk seriously about taking ideas seriously, and tying it to Reagan, may have been controversial in a room full of academics (and Applebaum may not realize how controversial her ideas are), and it was a welcome tonic.
It just may be that Applebaum herself turns out to be the next Melvin Lasky.