The March of Freedom 3 The March of Freedom T he modern American conservative movement has been guided for the past 70 years by a remarkable group of men and women—philosophers and thinkers, popularizers and idea merchants, politicians and policymakers. Starting in 1986, I have published each year a President’s Essay during the holiday season about one of these consequential conservatives, commenting on their lives and careers and offering an excerpt from one of their works. We titled a 2003 collection of the essays The March of Freedom: Modern Classics in Conservative Thought. And so they are. You know their names: F. A. Hayek, Russell Kirk, Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley Jr., Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and two dozen others. And you know the central idea that unites this intellectually diverse group: Given the opportunity, individual freedom trumps central planning in economics and politics every time and everywhere. Heritage has proved that this principle applies around the world with each new edition of our annual publication, the Index of Economic Freedom. This 2012 essay is different. Rather than focusing on the thinking and writing of one person, I offer an overview of the intellectual contributions of all the individuals I have highlighted in my essays. I decided to do so because this is my last President’s Essay. I will be stepping down in 2013 after 36 years as president and CEO of what
4 president’s essay many observers say is the most influential think tank in Washington, D.C.—and perhaps the world. In this essay, I look back at the past quarter of a century and reflect on the wisdom and insights of these apostles of freedom and their applicability to our times and the future. I begin with a triumvirate of classical liberals: F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman. I had the great fortune to hear Professor Hayek lecture in 1965 at the London School of Economics, where I was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and years later to bring him to Heritage as a Distinguished Fellow on three different occasions. I was especially pleased to arrange a first-time meeting in the White House between Professor Hayek and President Ronald Reagan, who revealed what a lasting impact The Road to Serfdom had had on him. I first met Milton Friedman, a Nobel Laureate like Hayek, in 1964 when my good friend Don Lipsett and I hosted an organizational meeting with Friedman and William F. Buckley Jr. about what became the Philadelphia Society. In addition to seeking his advice on a wide spectrum of public policies over the years, I collaborated with Milton on the activities of the Mont Pelerin Society, including its 50th anniversary, at which we honored Milton Friedman as the leading intellectual light of the global movement for liberty. I encountered the thought of Ludwig von Mises as a graduate student at the London School of Economics: Human Action is one of the most demanding and rewarding books I have ever read. My one meeting with Professor Mises was in New York City in the late 1960s when I asked him to inscribe my copies of his great works and asked him one or two tentative questions. He was wonderfully patient in his explanations. v F. A. HAYEK Friedrich von Hayek was more than a Nobel Prize winner in economics. He was a philosopher and a prophet. He was intrigued by the mind of man, the markets he has made, and the way those markets have made man and society what they are. He used
The March of Freedom 5 economic precepts to unveil the totalitarian nature of socialism and explain how it leads to serfdom. Using meticulous scholarship and powerful logic, he stopped the advocates of economic planning in their tracks, leaving them without a theoretical leg to stand on. At ease on the heights of abstruse monetary policy, he was also the primary popularizer of free-market ideas in the Western world. He may well be the only Nobel Laureate to have a major work—The Road to Serfdom—abridged in Reader’s Digest, causing it to become a best-seller. Immersed in the critical economic issues of his time, he was also prescient, foreseeing the collapse of Communism nearly half a century before it happened. Among all of Hayek’s accomplishments, I believe his greatest was uncovering a simple but profound truth: Man does not and cannot know everything, and when he acts as if he does, disaster follows. Hubris is a tragic flaw for ancient Greek heroes and modern national leaders alike. Those who try to control an economy, he wrote, are guilty not only of a “fatal conceit,” but also of factual error, which inevitably dooms planned economies to failure. In The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek emphasizes that liberty cannot exist without responsibility—a practice that many in the modern world have rejected for fear of failure and an unwillingness to accept blame if they fail. Hayek forcefully argues that although freedom imposes the burden of making man responsible for his own fate, it also allows him to use his abilities to advance himself and to help others. He writes: It is part of the ordinary nature of men (and perhaps still more of women) and one of the main conditions of their happiness that they make the welfare of their people their chief aim.… By common opinion our chief concern in this respect should, of course, be the welfare of our family. But we also show our appreciation and approval of others by making them our friends and their aims ours. To choose our associates and generally those whose needs we make our concern is an essential part of freedom and of the moral conceptions of a free society. [Emphasis added.]
6 president’s essay v LUDWIG VON MISES In his book Socialism, Mises states that a socialist system cannot make rational economic decisions because the only way to determine whether resources are used efficiently is to calculate profit and loss. Should more cars be produced? Should another factory be built? Without a price system, such choices are arbitrary. This, says Mises, is “the essential vice” of socialism. “Without economic calculation,” he writes, “there can be no economy.” Mises later extended his critique to “mixed” economies, in which government intervention is substantial but short of socialism (all too descriptive of the present U.S. economy). Such an approach, he said, is not sustainable in the long run because such interventions are almost always counterproductive. Economist Murray Rothbard wrote that the Austrian economist had arrived at a general law: Whenever the government intervenes in the economy to solve a problem, it invariably ends not by solving the problem, but by creating another. Perhaps Mises’ most important intellectual contribution was his rejection of the social science that reduces human beings to physical objects that are summarized in statistics and studied like specimens in a laboratory. His impatience with quantitative economics was based on his concern that such an approach is an invitation to social engineering. Human action, Mises argues, is based on individual values and ideas, on reason and will, which cannot be adequately summarized or predicted by quantitative laws or computations. “The basic notion of economics,” he says, is “the choosing and acting individual.” Hayek lauded Mises’ creed: “Do not yield to the bad, but always oppose it with courage.” Friedman declared that no one had done more to promote free markets in America. Even the traditionalist Russell Kirk, who read both Mises and Hayek as a young man, wrote that the Vienna of Freud “also has its great schools of economists of a very different and much sounder mind.” Reflecting his humanistic side, Mises stresses the influence of individualism on Western civilization:
The March of Freedom 7 The distinctive principle of Western social philosophy is individualism. It aims at the creation of a sphere in which the individual is free to think, to choose, and to act without being constrained by the interference of the social apparatus of coercion and oppression, the State. All the spiritual and material achievements of Western civilization were the result of the operation of this idea of liberty. v MILTON FRIEDMAN Milton Friedman defined himself as a classical liberal or libertarian, not as a conservative, but his greatest influence has been on the American conservative movement, which shares his core concern about the freedom of the individual. In his book Free to Choose and the award-winning television series with the same title, Friedman talks of “the importance of the intellectual climate of opinion, which determines the unthinking preconceptions of most people and their leaders, their conditioned reflexes to one course of action or another.” His enormous contribution to conservatism was to influence this climate—through his books, articles, lectures, and TV programs—like a welcome thaw after a long ice age. Specifically, he discredited the idea, common since the Great Depression, that capitalism is inherently flawed and requires the “fine-tuning” of government to avoid excess and disaster. He demonstrated that the one-third fall in GDP during the Depression was due to a one-third cut in the money supply from 1929 to 1933. He showed in case after case, echoing von Mises, that government interventions in free markets are not only ineffective but result in the exact opposite of their intended purpose. He called this “the invisible foot”—the unseen force that makes things go terribly wrong with government programs. Friedman made the case, powerfully, that economic, social, and political freedom are inseparable, part of the same yearning of the human spirit
8 president’s essay to be free. He argued that the finest achievement of capitalism is not the accumulation of wealth and property but “the opportunities it offers to men and women to extend and develop and improve their capacities.” There has been no more articulate voice in defense of freedom than Milton Friedman, but he was always careful to note that while freedom is the highest goal of society, it cannot be the highest goal of individuals. In his classic work Capitalism and Freedom, he writes: In a society, freedom has nothing to say about what an individual does with his freedom; it is not an all- embracing ethic. Indeed, a major aim of the [classical] liberal is to leave the ethical problem for the individual to wrestle with. The really important ethical problems are those that face an individual in a free society—what he should do with his freedom. v NOCK, ROGGE, HAZLITT, READ, ROEPKE Of the other classical liberals whom I profiled, Albert Jay Nock, Ben Rogge, Henry Hazlitt, and Leonard Read were essentially popularizers; only Wilhelm Roepke could properly be described as a philosopher. Nock was a radical libertarian of the 1920s and 1930s whose denunciations of the state and unbridled materialism influenced conservatives Russell Kirk, Bill Buckley, and Robert Nisbet, among others. They responded to his call to preach the gospel of individual freedom, trusting that a “Remnant” would one day build a new and free society. The fundamental message of “Isaiah’s Job,” the Nock essay I selected, is that one must do the right thing regardless of the cost. No defense of freedom is possible without prophets who, despite the starkest circumstances, proclaim the truth and a Remnant that hears and acts on it. Professor Ben Rogge of Wabash College was equally comfortable with his freshman students, his good friend Milton Friedman, and
The March of Freedom 9 the entrepreneur Pierre Goodrich, founder of the Liberty Fund. They all responded to his exuberant and knowledgeable defense of economic freedom. The most important part of his defense, he wrote in Can Capitalism Survive?, is not capitalism’s success in promoting economic growth but “its consistency with certain fundamental moral principles of life.” Rogge’s emphasis on the moral dimension of the free-market system echoes the moral sentiments of Adam Smith and modern disciples such as Hayek and Roepke. Excluding classroom textbooks, Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson (published in 1946) may be the most widely read overview of economics published since World War II. Its central theme remains relevant: Government’s economic actions usually have long-term consequences that are the opposite of what policymakers intended. As Frederic Bastiat would put it, there is that which is seen and that which is unseen, and the latter is ultimately more important. Here is one among many telling examples: Governments impose rent controls to protect certain citizens, but a price ceiling discourages landlords from maintaining their properties at a proper level. Thus, the quantity as well as the quality of available housing falls, hurting the “protected” citizens worse than if their rents had been increased. Simultaneously, reduced rents mean a lower return on investments, and that means less will be invested in the rental units. Leonard Read, the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), was an indefatigable idea merchant who published 27 books and hundreds of articles and pamphlets about the American experiment and its commitment to the free market. His most famous essay was “I, Pencil.” Speaking in the first person, Mr. Pencil promises to convince the reader of a surprising fact: No individual knows how to produce this common tool used by every school child and many an adult. He describes the details of his family tree that includes not only actual trees, but the lumberjacks who harvest the trees, the trucks and saws and ropes essential for the harvesting, the railroads that carry the logs to the mills, the motors and other tools that trim the logs into slats, the kilns that season the slats, the lacquer that coats them, and the graphite mined in Ceylon that is the chief ingredient
10 president’s essay of the “lead.” In less than 2,000 words, Leonard Read convinces you that an ordinary pencil is a miracle wrought through the free market. Wilhelm Roepke’s A Humane Economy and his other writings did much to reverse the troubling trend toward economic collectivism in Western Europe after World War II. His free-market philosophy was vindicated when the governments of West Germany and then Italy implemented the measures that he advocated. He rejected socialism as “a philosophy which … places too little emphasis on man, his nature, and his personality.” In contrast, he defended the “intrinsic morality of the market economy,” which allows the individual to profit by working for his own welfare and that of his fellow man. II Let us now consider the intellectuals who were the major spokesmen of traditional conservatism: Russell Kirk, Forrest McDonald, and Richard Weaver. It was at an Intercollegiate Studies Institute seminar in 1962 that I, still an undergraduate, first met Dr. Kirk, a luminous star in the conservative firmament by reason of his classic work, The Conservative Mind. Twenty years later, Russell Kirk would be a Heritage Distinguished Fellow and deliver more lectures at Heritage (over 40) than any other outside speaker. In 1991, I had the honor of presenting Russell with the first Henry Salvatori Prize, awarded by ISI to an outstanding conservative scholar. I first heard Forrest McDonald speak at a national meeting of the Philadelphia Society and was struck by his love of history for its own sake. Not for him—as for many professional historians—the promotion of some present-day policy agenda. He insists that tradition be given a place of honor, agreeing with G. K. Chesterton that tradition is “trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record.” He is a conservative’s conservative—wise, just, courageous. He burst onto the academic scene in 1958 with We the People, a devastating refutation of Charles Beard’s long-accepted neo-Marxist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Richard Weaver lived a quiet life, writing and teaching about goodness, beauty, and truth as a professor of English at the
The March of Freedom 11 University of Chicago. Embracing socialism as a young man, he “woke up” one day to the fact that he had free will and could reject the worship of the false idols put forth by socialists. Never hesitant to act on his ideas, he was an early trustee of ISI and an editor of the conservative quarterly Modern Age. For many, his book Ideas Have Consequences is the fons et origo (source and origin) of the conservative movement. v RUSSELL KIRK Derided by the intelligentsia, ignored by the media, and unsung even by its scattered adherents, conservatism was so inconsequential 50 years ago that the notion of a “conservative mind” was dismissed as oxymoronic. Russell Kirk’s monumental book The Conservative Mind (published in 1953) changed that overnight. Kirk proved conclusively that conservatism had an illustrious intellectual lineage, that many of the most influential British and American thinkers and writers—Edmund Burke, John Adams, John C. Calhoun, Benjamin Disraeli, Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Henry Newman, Orestes Brownson, T. S. Eliot— were conservative. His work was also a scathing indictment of every liberal nostrum from the perfectibility of man to economic equalitarianism, leading Whittaker Chambers to hail it as one of the most important books of the 20th century. Kirk did conservatives an extraordinary service by setting forth six “canons” or principles of a conservative credo. They are (1) belief in a transcendent order, including natural law; (2) respect for the variety and mystery of human existence; (3) recognition that civilization requires classes and orders; (4) acknowledgement of the crucial link between freedom and private property; (5) adherence to custom and convention; and (6) awareness that change is not necessarily reform and agreement that Providence plays the final role in the affairs of men. He was never a liberal and always a conservative, he wrote, from the hour he began to reason. He committed his life to conserving “the three great bodies of principle … that tie together modern
12 president’s essay civilization”: Christian faith, humane letters, and the social and political institutions that define our culture. In one of his Heritage lectures, he urged all of us to defend this culture and preserve what Eliot called “the permanent things.” Despite the incivility, materialism, irreverence, and immorality all around us, Russell was not discouraged about the future. He predicted that if conservatives “take up the weapons of reason and imagination,” they have every reason to anticipate victory. He drew his optimism in part from Burke, who reminds us that the goodness of one person, the courage of one man, the strength of one individual can turn the course of history and renew a civilization. v FORREST MCDONALD In 1987, Forrest McDonald was invited by the National Endowment for the Humanities to give the annual Jefferson Lecture, the federal government’s highest academic honor. He talked about limited government and federalism, about private character and public virtue, and concluded by quoting George Washington that “the sacred fire of liberty” is deeply and finally “staked upon the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” “That fire,” McDonald said, “was three thousand years in the kindling. Let not our generation be the one to extinguish the flame.” Throughout his life and career, Forrest often wrote about the indispensable document of the founding—the U.S. Constitution. The key to the Constitution, he said, lies in the Framers’ conviction that the essence of tyranny is the unrestrained will of the sovereign, whether he is a king, a parliament, or the people. In order to divide the unchecked will of the people, a system of checks and balances was created, partly along a vertical axis with the federal–state system and partly along a horizontal axis among the branches of the national government. In such a multi-level government, the people would not be able “to act as the whole people”: They were separated from themselves both in space and in time.
The March of Freedom 13 A critical aspect of the Constitution is that power on both the vertical and horizontal axes is vaguely defined and free to shift from place to place as “time and circumstance should dictate.” Yet despite all the economic, social, and technological changes of the past two centuries, the Constitution has been amended only 27 times, a testament to the genius of the Framers. The Constitution, McDonald says, is to be cherished and protected against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It is, in the words of my Heritage colleague Edwin Meese III, “our great charter of liberty.” v RICHARD WEAVER For Richard Weaver, rhetoric was the discipline of teaching men to know the good, speak and write about it convincingly, and act upon it. To this end, he wrote two books that have become classics: The Ethics of Rhetoric and Ideas Have Consequences. In the former, Weaver argues that language is a divine gift that accurately represents its speakers and their culture. He warns that language, by its very nature, is “sermonic,” always encouraging its auditors to good or evil. Ideas Have Consequences (published in 1948) is his most influential book, occupying a central place among modern conservative works. Its attack on modern nominalism—which declares there are no universal truths—heralded the revival of conservatism in America. Weaver says that the evils of modernity began in the 14th century when Western man decided to abandon a belief in transcendentals and made man the measure of all things. This fateful choice resulted in “the dissolution of the West,” which expressed itself in the decline of proper sentiment, the eradication of rightful distinctions, and the obliteration of legitimate hierarchies. This led to fragmentation, with specialists knowing more and more about less and less while individuals, separated from each other, became obsessed with self- realization. Such self-absorption, Weaver comments, cuts man off “from the ‘real’ reality and from … social harmony.”
14 president’s essay Furthermore, Weaver maintains, our egotism is constantly being fed by what he called “the Great Stereopticon”—the mass media—which presents false images of reality. Designed to increase our “spoiled- child psychology,” these media-generated images promise us everything for nothing in a “pushbutton existence.” Richard Weaver foresaw the entitlement mentality of so many Americans today. But Ideas Have Consequences is not a jeremiad. Weaver offers three proposals for reform. First, we must defend the right of private property, “the last metaphysical right remaining to us.” Second, our language must be purified and rescued from “the impulse to dissolve everything into sensation.” Third, we must adopt an attitude of “piety” toward nature, other human beings, and the past. Such piety, he says, will serve as at least a partial antidote for modern man’s egotism and excessive materialism. Although he considered the 20th century an “age of crisis,” Weaver did not despair. Echoing both Kirk and McDonald, he believed that “man will prevail over the dark forces of this time” and that “a chief means of his prevailing will be … persuasive speech in the service of truth.” v NISBET, NOVAK, WILSON Robert Nisbet, Michael Novak, and James Q. Wilson belong in the same traditionalist category as Kirk, McDonald, and Weaver. Nisbet’s classic work The Quest for Community has not been out of print since it was published nearly 50 years ago. Man’s fundamental desire for community, he argues, cannot be satisfied either by the centralized state or by unrestrained individualism. He quotes Thomas Jefferson’s shrewd observation that a state with the power to do things for people has the power to do things to them. Many individualists, Nisbet says, fail to recognize the close dependence of their thought on “the subtle, infinitely complex lines of habit, tradition, and social relationship.” “The quest for community will not be denied,” Nisbet maintains, “for it springs from some of the powerful needs of human nature—needs for
The March of Freedom 15 a strong sense of cultural purpose, membership, status, and continuity.” Long one of America’s most prominent socialists, Michael Novak broke publicly with his leftist colleagues in the late 1970s, declaring, “Socialism makes no sense as an economic theory.” It has resulted in tyranny and poverty in almost all of the countries in which it has been tried. Novak embraced capitalism because it recognizes that “the cause of the wealth of nations is the creativity of the human person.” On a more personal level, three experiences opened his eyes to the true nature of the Left. Contemplating the genocide in Cambodia, the miseries of the boat people from Vietnam, and accounts of life in postwar South Vietnam showed him how mistaken much of his anti- war writing had been. Furthermore, participating in the elections of 1970, 1972, and 1976 revealed how the new power elite of the Democratic Party had divorced itself from mainstream Democrats and the values of the American people. In his widely praised work The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, for which he received the Templeton Prize, Michael describes the three dynamic and converging systems on which capitalism rests: a democratic polity, a market economy, and a moral culture. He argues that capitalism, with its emphasis on the individual, leads to democracy: Economic liberty and political liberty reinforce each other. What holds them together, he says, is a moral social system that “is not just a system but a way of life.” The late James Q. Wilson is probably best known for his “broken windows” theory of preventing crime: Paying attention to the little things like drug dealing on street corners and prostitutes on parade can have an enormous impact on big things as well. New York City’s police commissioner credited Jim Wilson with providing a key concept in the campaign to reduce crime in American cities. In my President’s Essay, I focused on another aspect of Wilson’s scholarship: his consideration of the moral sense in society. He argues that if we want to live in a community of reasonable order and general decency, we must encourage a moral sense made up of sympathy, fairness, self-control, and duty. And we must reject the totalitarian notion that man is infinitely malleable.
16 president’s essay III Let us now look at the preeminent popularizers of conservative thought. Was there a more eloquent herald of the truth than William F. Buckley Jr.? If, as George Orwell wrote, “political chaos is connected with the decay of language,” the reordering of American politics is inseparable from Bill Buckley’s resurrection of rhetoric. For more than five decades, he was an orator in an age of mutterers. He was a polemicist with the power to convince or enrage. He was a eulogist who expanded our empathy into places we never expected. He added the fuel of ideas to the fire of political debate. Few remember how isolated the conservative remnant seemed in the 1940s and 1950s, meeting by torchlight in its catacombs. In August 1945, Churchill was defeated in the British elections and a Labour majority walked into Parliament singing the “Red Flag,” a leftist battle hymn of the Spanish Civil War. In America, the Republican Party adopted a program that was little more, in Buckley’s words, than “measured socialism.” Historian Mortimer Smith wrote that conservatism “is all but dead in our present world.” It was not true, but it felt true. Ronald Reagan joked that he received his first issue of National Review in a plain brown wrapper. “The few spasmodic victories conservatives are winning,” Buckley wrote in 1954, “are aimless, uncoordinated and inconclusive. This is so … because many years have gone by since the philosophy of freedom has been expounded systematically, brilliantly and resourcefully.” Buckley demonstrated that wit is possible without cynicism, that a pundit can also be a pilgrim. “I am not tortured by the problems that torture a great many other people,” he wrote, “because I do very sincerely and very simply believe in God and in the whole of the Christian experience.” This is the key to understanding both his character and his politics. “I myself believe,” he said, “that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world.” Liberalism’s chief flaw, Bill wrote, is its skepticism and relativism, its elevation of method over substance, its defense of freedom as an end in itself. It “has no eschatology; no vision, no fulfillment, no point of arrival.” Liberalism is a political faith crippled by moral apathy, unable
17to distinguish between noble and base, just and unjust, or to “call forthe kind of passionate commitment that stirs the political blood.”One contribution in particular defines Bill Buckley’s central placein the history of conservative thought: his role as a master fusionist.Conservatism is notoriously difficult to define, and any of itselements—freedom, order, individualism, tradition—can be taken toextremes that undermine the whole. It was Buckley’s self-delegatedduty to grab the wheel and give it a sharp turn when conservativethought veered toward crackpot alley. He did that with the JohnBirch Society and anti-Semitism, among other extremes.In Up from Liberalism (published in 1959), he commends aconservatism that is principled but not dogmatic, that balanceslong-term goals with the politics of the present. The objectiveis to adjust skillfully to current circumstances until all of ourfundamental commitments are aligned. This allows for vigorousdisagreement without recourse to anathema and schism becauseour unity rests on first principles, not narrow self-interest. Bill endswith a hymn to freedom: I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly a program enough to keep conservatives busy, and liberals at bay. And the nation free. v FRANK MEYERThe events of our times confirm the message that Frank Meyer,author, editor, critic, and ex-Communist, never tired of telling:A small band of men armed with truth, virtue, and courage candefeat a corrupt, idolatrous empire and give birth to a civilization.Frank’s lasting contribution was conditioned by his early adoptionof Marxism–Leninism, his rejection of the “total hideousness ofCommunism,” and his fervent embrace of conservatism.
18 president’s essay While at Oxford University in the late 1920s, he fell under the sway of Communism and eventually became a member of the “cadre,” holding responsible posts in the Communist Party in Britain and the United States. Despite apparent submission to the will of the party, he enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and began to recognize the true nature of Marxism–Leninism and the true value of what it was trying to destroy. He finally broke with the party in 1945 when Stalin decided to pursue revolutionary aims globally— after the war ended. In 1962, he published what he considered his most important book, In Defense of Freedom, in which he laid the groundwork for the major argument to which he devoted the last 10 years of his life. Libertarians and traditionalists, often unbeknownst to them, share a common conservatism, though they emphasize different aspects of the tradition they both inherited. He advanced his theory in a subsequent work, What Is Conservatism?, and summarized the consensus as: Belief in an objective moral order; agreement that the human person is the proper focus of political and social thought; conviction that the power of the state should be limited; support of “the spirit of the Constitution as originally conceived” [an early expression of the constitutional “originalism” championed by my colleague Ed Meese several decades later]; and a shared devotion to Western civilization coupled with the will to defend it from hostile ideologies. Since the death of Communism, I have often thought of Frank Meyer and how he would have rejoiced to witness what we have seen—a playwright as the freely elected president of Czechoslovakia, private property in what used to be East Germany, public prayer in Red Square in Moscow. He would have rejoiced not only in the triumph of freedom but in the way it happened, with one man, one heart, one spirit at a time refusing to be the creature of the commissar. He always believed in the inviolability of man’s free will, in the importance of each individual, and in the unlimited potential of each person to do good.
The March of Freedom 19 v JOHN WITHERSPOON In two President’s Essays, I went back more than 200 years to the founding of our Republic to discuss the most famous founder, George Washington, and an unsung hero of the American Revolution: John Witherspoon, the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. I will discuss Washington in the last section of this essay. I selected Witherspoon for my 2001 essay because America had recently suffered the terrorist attacks of September 11, and in that time of crisis, we were in need of rediscovering the special legacy of our Founding Fathers. As my colleague Joseph Loconte pointed out, Witherspoon embodied “the potent alliance between faith and freedom that would radically distinguish America from her European cousins.” He did so by word and deed. As a member of the Continental Congress, he signed the Declaration of Independence and lost a son in the Revolutionary War. As a leader of the American Presbyterian Church, he argued that robust religion depended not on government sponsorship but on freedom of conscience. And as president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), he not only made the campus a “seminary of sedition” against the Crown, but prepared a generation of men— including James Madison—for leadership roles in the new nation. John Adams called Witherspoon “as high a son of liberty as any man in America.” v DECTER, PODHORETZ Like Frank Meyer, Midge Decter and Norman Podhoretz were initially of the Left but in Irving Kristol’s memorable phrase were “mugged by reality” and sought a more rational and hospitable home on the Right.
20 president’s essay Decter has made major contributions to the development of American conservatism, providing an insightful, timely critique of feminism; a resolute defense of democracy against tyranny; and a keen understanding of those commitments that unite the conservative movement. She has also been a highly valued and listened-to member of the Heritage Board of Trustees since 1981. In her 1975 book Liberal Parents, Radical Children, Midge writes about the most fundamental conservative act: passing character to children. Civilization, she says, depends on the cultivation of moral discipline among children, “the long, slow slogging effort that is the only route to genuine maturity of mind and feeling.” For 35 years, Norman Podhoretz edited the always influential Commentary magazine, first as a dependable organ of the liberal establishment and then as an eloquent critic of the radical Left. Podhoretz, Kristol, and other neoconservatives consciously set about building an intellectual and cultural counterestablishment. They rejected the charges of the New Left that America was intrinsically “racist or imperialistic or counterrevolutionary.” In June 2004, Norman Podhoretz received from President George W. Bush a Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. “It is the most wonderful honor ever to come my way,” said the Brooklyn-born Jew whose father was a milkman. He preferred to think he was being saluted not for his firm defense of the President and the Bush Doctrine but for his patriotism. “This honor,” he said, “comes from the United States of America.” v WHITTAKER CHAMBERS Whittaker Chambers was the subject of my first President’s Essay. I selected him because he had written Witness, one of the most influential books of the second half of the 20th century, which describes his seduction by Communism, his repudiation of its false ideology, and his conversion to belief in God. Published in 1952, the book had a profound influence on Ronald Reagan, Bill Buckley Jr.,
The March of Freedom 21 and Robert Novak, among many others. I also picked Chambers for his amazing courage in the face of a hostile Liberal Establishment and for his deep understanding of what was at stake in the epic struggle between Communism and freedom. He was aware that all of human history depended on which philosophy was victorious. In Witness, he chronicles his pilgrimage from faith in the preeminence of man to belief in the sovereignty of God. He recognizes that Communism’s strength derives from its identity as a religion and its horrors result from its identity as a false religion. As he points out, Communism is man’s “second oldest faith,” first instituted in response to the promise of the serpent in the Garden of Eden: “Ye shall be as gods.” Chambers’s witness (as a former Communist and spy for the Soviet Union) shows the fraudulence of this promise and testifies to his own faith in Western civilization. He risked his life to defend it, knowing that others who had broken with the Communist Party had been murdered. He wrote Witness so that others might profit from his sacrifice and a resurrection might be wrought for himself, for his children, and for the West. IV Finally, I turn to modern conservatism’s greatest political heroes: Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Margaret Thatcher. I have been privileged to have known each of them and to have worked with them to advance the cause of freedom at home and abroad. President Reagan transformed conservatism from an intellectual movement into a political revolution that continues to this day. He exposed the bankruptcy of modern liberalism and proved that true liberty is the motivating force of a just and prosperous society. He understood the momentum of freedom and, through the power of his words and the impact of his deeds, buried Leninism and ended the Cold War without firing a shot. He was called the “Great Communicator,” and so he was, but he always placed more emphasis on substance than on style. “I wasn’t a great communicator,” he insisted, “but I communicated great things,
22 president’s essay and they didn’t spring full blown from my brow. They came from the heart of a great nation—from our experience, our wisdom and our belief in the principles that guided us for two centuries.” He boiled down politics to its fundamental level and spoke a plain language of right and wrong. “At the heart of our message,” he said, “should be five simple familiar words … family, work, neighborhood, freedom, peace.” He intended his presidency to be an extension of the conservative movement. His favorite magazine was National Review; his favorite weekly paper was Human Events; his nightstand reading was Chambers’s Witness and George Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty. “A revolution of ideas,” he later explained, “became a revolution of governance.” He restored Americans’ confidence in themselves and in their nation. When Reagan left office, a strong plurality of Americans described themselves as conservatives. President Reagan created an economic miracle. After a three- stage tax cut and a reduction in government growth, the American economy began to expand, growing 31 percent from 1983 to 1989 in real terms. Americans of every class—rich, middle-class, and poor— saw their wealth increase. It was the longest peacetime expansion in our nation’s history. This extraordinary economic achievement was equalled by events overseas. Reagan said, “We meant to change a nation, and instead we changed a world.” His administration determined that after 40 years of trying to contain Communism, the Cold War needed an end game. The objective was no longer to maintain the status quo but to roll back and bring down the Soviet empire. The Reagan Administration did so with a multi-layered campaign that included a buildup of U.S. military might, psychological warfare in Poland and elsewhere behind the Iron Curtain, and a sophisticated economic offensive that drove down the price of oil and limited Soviet exports of natural gas to the West. And who can forget the most famous six words of the Reagan years: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the President issued that ringing challenge in June 1987. Barely two years later, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.
The March of Freedom 23 The Berlin challenge was preceded by what Reagan himself called “one of the most important speeches I gave as president”—the 1982 Westminster Speech to the British Parliament. He said then that it is possible and essential to preserve both freedom and peace. In fact, it is freedom, not Communism, that has a kind of historical inevitability rooted in the hopes of a world weary of poverty and oppression. It is the “march of freedom and democracy,” he declared, “that will leave Marxism–Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.” (I took “the march of freedom” from this speech for the overall title of the President’s Essays.) While liberal historians and Keynesian economists continued to laud Moscow and predict a long life for its totalitarian rulers, Ronald Reagan saw a quite different fate for the Soviet Union. The President “achieved the most difficult of all political tasks,” former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said later, “changing attitudes and perceptions about what is possible. From the strong fortress of his convictions, he set out to enlarge freedom the world over at a time when freedom was in retreat—and he succeeded.” v BARRY GOLDWATER To borrow from George Will, before there was Ronald Reagan there was Barry Goldwater, who affected American politics more than any other losing presidential candidate in the 20th century. Like a stern prophet of the Old Testament, Goldwater warned the people to repent of their spendthrift ways or reap a bitter harvest. Anti-Communist to the core, he urged a strategy of victory over Communism by a combination of strategic, economic, and psychological means including military superiority over the Soviets and the encouragement of the peoples behind the Iron Curtain to “overthrow their captors.” He talked about the partial privatization of Social Security and a flat tax. Denounced as extremist in 1964, such proposals have since entered the mainstream.
24 president’s essay Barry Goldwater laid the foundation for a political revolution that culminated in the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan as President and the 1994 Republican capture of the U.S. House of Representatives under Speaker Newt Gingrich. In his memoirs, he insists that he did not start a revolution, that all he did was to begin “to tap … a deep reservoir [of conservatism] that already existed in the American people.” That is like Thomas Paine saying he did not ignite the American Revolution with his fiery pamphlet Common Sense. Four years before he ran for President, Goldwater published The Conscience of a Conservative, a political manifesto that inspired thousands of young people like myself to enter the world of politics. The book was a fusion of the three major strains of conservatism that existed in 1960: traditionalist, libertarian, and anti-Communist. On the very first page, Goldwater declared that America was fundamentally a conservative nation and that the American people yearned for a return to conservative principles. He dismissed the idea that conservatism was “out of date,” arguing that saying this was like saying that “The Golden Rule or the Ten Commandments or Aristotle’s Politics are out of date.” The conservative approach, he said, “is nothing more or less than an attempt to apply the wisdom of experience and the revealed truths of the past to the problems of today.” He listed what the conservative had learned about man from the great minds of the past: (1) each person is unique and different from every other human being, so provision must be made for the differing development of each person; (2) the economic and spiritual aspects of man’s nature “are inextricably intertwined”—neither aspect can be free unless both are free; and (3) man’s spiritual and material development cannot be directed by outside forces—“each man,” he declared, “is responsible for his own development.” But freedom is in peril in America, he said, because leaders and members of both political parties had allowed government to become too powerful. In so doing, they had ignored and misinterpreted the single most important document in American government: the Constitution, which was an instrument above all
The March of Freedom 25 “for limiting the functions of government.” The alarming result was “a Leviathan, a vast national authority out of touch with the people and out of their control.” The solution, he said, lay with the people. The transition from authority to freedom would come when the people entrusted their affairs to those “who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power they have been given.” The turn toward freedom, he wrote, would come when Americans elected those candidates who pledged to enforce the Constitution, to restore the Republic, and who proclaimed: My aim is to not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden.… And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can. v MARGARET THATCHER The history of Great Britain in the last quarter of the 20th century is the biography of a great woman: Margaret Thatcher. This variant of Thomas Carlyle’s dictum about the impact of heroes on history is based on the extraordinary accomplishments of the British political leader dubbed the “Iron Lady” by a grudgingly admiring Soviet adversary. Committed to the ideas of limited government and the free market, Prime Minister Thatcher transformed Britain during her 11-and-a-half years, from May 1979 to November 1990, at No. 10 Downing Street. She literally turned the nation around, putting it on the road to freedom and prosperity rather than the road to serfdom and stagnation it had been traveling for much of the post–World War II period.
26 president’s essay It is easy to forget how desperate Britain’s situation was in the late 1970s. The country was invariably described as the “sick man of Europe.” To pay its bills, it had to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund. Protracted labor disputes led to long strikes and a “Winter of Discontent” in 1978. Dead bodies went unburied. Uncollected trash piled up in the streets. More strikes loomed. The famous British attribute of patience reached its breaking point in the spring of 1979: The Labour prime minister was ousted on a vote of no confidence and replaced by the Conservative Thatcher—Britain’s first woman prime minister. Convinced that the solution to the country’s persistent economic problems lay in a return to the market system, Thatcher launched a bold plan to get rid of what she called the “nanny state.” She set out to break the grip of power-hungry trade unions and the monopoly of nationalized industries. She tamed the unions despite a violent coal miners’ strike in 1984; unlike previous prime ministers, she refused to cave in to radical demands. Under her direction, and over the strenuous objections of the opposition Labour Party, the government sold off British Telecom, British Gas, British Airways, and British Steel, resulting in vastly improved service for the public and profits for the stockholders of the companies. She assumed control of the money supply, reduced the government’s budget deficit, trimmed state spending, cut taxes, and reduced government regulations. On the seventh day, she rested. Freed of the nanny state, Britain embarked on its longest economic expansion in the postwar period. Annual growth averaged between 3 percent and 4 percent in the 1980s, besting the European Community’s average of 2.5 percent. Real household income rose 34 percent during the decade. Government spending was tightly controlled. As a result, inflation fell sharply and unemployment declined markedly. In fact, Britain created more new jobs in the ’80s than the other members of the European Community combined. The program of privatizing state-owned industries brought share ownership to millions of workers. Public-sector tenants were given the option to buy their homes at significant discounts, and over
The March of Freedom 27 a million did. Margaret Thatcher proved yet again that freedom works—for everyone. Her successful application of conservative ideas is a lesson to be studied by everyone, including our own leaders. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were loyal allies and staunch friends. At their first meeting in April 1975, when Thatcher was the new leader of the Conservative opposition and Reagan had recently stepped down as California governor, the two conservatives quickly realized they were of like mind. They shared the same philosophy and the same desire to put their philosophy into practice. Reagan later recalled, “Margaret ended our first meeting by telling me, ‘We must stand together.’” And so they did as political soul mates and champions of liberty. In her book Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, “Lady T” writes that “the pursuit of statecraft without regard for moral principles is all but impossible.” And she looks to America to lead the way in a world of risk, conflict, and latent violence. Like a latter- day Tocqueville, she suggests that America is more than a nation or a state or a superpower. “It is an idea”—the idea of what she calls “orderly freedom.” The idea is founded on “a sense of personal responsibility and of the quintessential value of the individual human being.” America, she says, is the most reliable force for freedom in the world because “the entrenched values of freedom are what make sense of its whole existence.” v JACK KEMP Most public officials come and go in Washington, making only the faintest of impressions. Only rarely does a politician advance an idea that changes the course of the nation; such a political leader was Jack Kemp. Following meetings and extended discussions with journalist Jude Wanniski, academic Arthur Laffer, and Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley, Jack became convinced that supply-side economics, with its focus on deep across-the-board tax rate cuts, was the key to
28 president’s essay national prosperity and political success for the Republican Party. Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan agreed and made Kemp–Roth (the latter Senator William Roth of Delaware) a central initiative of his 1980 campaign. In the summer of 1981, the Economic Recovery Tax Act, calling for a 25 percent cut in nominal tax rates over three years, was passed by Congress and signed into law by Reagan. It sparked the longest period of peacetime economic growth in U.S. history, lasting more than two decades. Scholars could not recall when a lawmaker like Jack Kemp without a seat on the committee with jurisdiction had so much influence on such important legislation. I remember especially his soaring address at Heritage’s President’s Club meeting in November 1994 when he offered a vision of the American idea rooted in a conservative vision of the Founders: We must return to people their resources so that they will accept their responsibility. We must return to people power so that they will rebuild the institutions of a free society. We must return to people authority so that they will create the moral capital to help renew our nation. v JEANE KIRKPATRICK Ronald Reagan was a superb judge of the right ideas and the right people to implement those ideas, as proved by his selection of Jeane Kirkpatrick as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. As President, he was determined to send a powerful message to the Soviets “that we weren’t going to stand by anymore while they armed and financed terrorists and subverted democratic governments.” As part of his strategy, he chose as his U.N. representative someone who he knew would neither excuse nor disregard Soviet aggrandizement.
The March of Freedom 29 He had been impressed by Kirkpatrick’s penetrating article in Commentary that traced the Carter Administration’s failed foreign policy to its inability to make distinctions between “right-wing” and Communist governments. Referring to Nicaragua and Iran, she criticized Carter for undermining pro-American, right-wing autocracies while accepting the rule of anti-American, Communist regimes. Such realistic analysis appealed strongly to Ronald Reagan. In the U.N., Jeane eloquently defended Reagan policy during such crises as Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, the U.S. overturn of a Marxist regime in Grenada, and the Soviet downing of Korean Airlines flight 007. She was especially vocal in support of aid to the anti- Communist Contras in Nicaragua. In her original essay for the 2002 President’s Essay, she wrote that international relations depend, above all, “on the values and the relative power of nations.” U.S. effectiveness in places like the U. N., require “absolutely that we have confidence in our values, our experience, our country.” v GEORGE WASHINGTON As we approached the end of the 20th century, I thought it appropriate in the 1999 President’s Essay to look back and reflect on where we had been so that we might better judge where we were headed. And I could think of no better place to begin a reassessment than to consider our first President and his greatest and longest writing: the Farewell Address of 1796. I called attention to three pieces of Washington’s advice that are especially important to America today. First is the primary importance of the Constitution and the rule of law. What makes the obligation to obey the law so vital? Its basis in just principles of government—above all, the sovereignty of the people and the consent of the governed embodied in the Constitution. Second is the place of religion, morality, and what we today call civil society. Even with good laws and a carefully written Constitution, Americans must develop and maintain the good habits necessary for
30 president’s essay free government. In order to have public virtue, Washington said, it is first necessary to cultivate private virtue. Third is his advice regarding foreign policy, including this famous passage: “’Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances, with any portion of the foreign world.” He did not use the phrase “entangling alliances,” which is actually found in Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 inaugural address. As my colleague and Washington scholar Matthew Spalding has pointed out, Washington is warning against political connections and permanent alliances. Rather than a passive condition of detachment, he is describing an active policy of national independence. Much has changed since Washington delivered his Farewell Address. America has become the strong, prosperous, and great nation our first President envisioned. But by ignoring his advice, America has moved down the path of unlimited government power, political factionalism and rancor, and a culture far adrift of its traditional moorings. The challenge before us is clear: the renewal of constitutional government, civil society, and our personal liberty. V My own political thinking has been most influenced by Russell Kirk, a traditionalist; Friedrich von Hayek, a classical liberal; and Milton Friedman, a libertarian. In the same room, they would have had (and did have) pointed arguments. But I do not believe that my respect for them is schizophrenic. All shared a revulsion against modern Gnosticism (the attempt to merge heaven and earth with man at the center) and social engineering. All would admit that a vigorous economy depends on strong families and communities and that economic policy has a critical influence on the social fabric. I began writing the President’s Essays all those years ago with the objective of introducing or reintroducing the conservative faith to friends and supporters of The Heritage Foundation—and then to encourage many of you to cross the bridge from thought to action, matching principles with participation. Judging by the communications I have received over the years, I believe I have succeeded.
The March of Freedom 31 As to the future, there is much to be done. There is a federal government to be rolled back, a market economy to be freed, traditional values to be preserved, and a national defense to be strengthened. All this can be done, and I believe will be done, if we look to the right philosophers, popularizers, and politicians to lead the march of freedom.
Previous President’s EssaysA Letter to My Children 1986 Whittaker ChambersUp from Liberalism 1987 Richard WeaverThe Economic Necessity of Freedom 1988 Wilhelm RoepkeErrand Into the Wilderness 1989 Michael NovakIsaiah’s Job 1990 Albert Jay NockFreedom, Tradition, Conservatism 1991 Frank S. MeyerEnlivening the Conservative Mind 1992 Russell KirkResponsibility and Freedom 1993 F. A. HayekThe Conservative Framework and Modern Realities 1994 William F. Buckley Jr.A Letter to the Young 1995 Midge DecterThe March of Freedom: The Westminster Speech 1996 Ronald W. ReaganCapitalism and Freedom 1997 Milton FriedmanLiberty and Property 1998 Ludwig von MisesFarewell Address 1999 George WashingtonFour Essays 2000 Leonard Read
Previous President’s Essays (continued)The Minister to Freedom: The Legacy of John Witherspoon 2001 Joseph LoconteDefending U.S. Interests and Principles in the United Nations 2002 Jeane J. KirkpatrickThe Contexts of Democracy 2003 Robert NisbetThe Conscience of a Conservative 2004 Barry GoldwaterStatecraft 2005 Margaret ThatcherA New Order for the Ages: The Making of the 2006United States Constitution Forrest McDonaldA Letter to My Son 2007 Norman PodhoretzThe Case for Economic Freedom 2008 Benjamin A. Rogge, Ph.D.Economics in One Lesson 2009 Henry HazlittThe Moral Sense 2010 James Q. WilsonAn American Renaissance 2011 Jack KempMost of these essays have been collected in the second edition ofThe March of Freedom by Edwin J. Feulner Jr.