Transcript of Remarks

It is a thrill to add this splendid lion to my glass bestiary. This award provides an
occasion to thank those closest to me for their help and support along the way: My
parents of blessed memory, who conceived me and so generously provided for my
education; my three brothers, all older, who early on supplied daily lessons in the
principle of the survival of the fittest; my three loving children, daughter-in-law, and two
grandchildren, who have brought so much joy while trying to teach me eternal vigilance
and patience; and above all my wife Blaire.
These good feelings naturally prompt an impulse to stretch across the intellectual
aisle and make an effort to depolarize our dialogue. So along with my family, I need to
offer a big thanks to the government that built the roads and bridges that brought me to
this place. Without the outer beltway, none of us would be here this evening.
And if one is to thank what the government has built, one must—pari passu, as
they say—also thank the revenue collector, which already has laid claim to my lion’s left
paw, tail, and mane. The IRS will have its pound of crystal and, if things keep going as
they have been, will soon claim the lion’s share. Some in this audience, in particular those
with ties to the Tea Party, will want to join in thanking this agency for the close attention
it has paid them over the past six years.
The inclination to express gratitude for what has helped to shape and develop us,
far from being the exclusive property of Progressives, is one of conservatism’s deepest
instincts. Conservatives offer the constant reminder of our debt to those who built
civilization. Society, we think, is a partnership between us the living, those who came
before, and those yet unborn.
It is in this vein that I would like to thank Plato and Aristotle—less for any
particular thought or doctrine than for the sublime idea that we humans are free to think
any thought and to challenge any orthodoxy, to the limits of our capacity. This notion of
inner liberty, which occurred to so few before philosophy emerged and which remains
unknown to millions of people today, is a gift beyond calculation. It opened a new sphere
of human possibility that has led mankind on a mysterious journey, with what end,
disastrous or happy, we cannot know.
Plato also established a school that was open to discussion of all things. It was
situated on a plot of land called The Academy, which was modestly endowed with an
olive grove, a park, and a gymnasium. The staff was meager, lacking today’s abundant
infrastructure of legions of deans, EEOC officers and Title IX supervisors with their
brochures and on-line tests. Nor did the original academy ever benefit from a stimulus
package filled with “shovel-ready” ideas designed to promote a hidden agenda through
programs in Global Studies and sustainability. With all the grandeur of what we still like
to call the academy, the only thing that seems to have been forgotten is its original
purpose. The campus is becoming the place where free discussion and open inquiry are
often least in evidence.
If philosophy is one pillar of our civilization, the other is found in Scripture. Here
I will choose to thank Moses. He also promoted the cause of liberty, leading his people
from bondage to freedom. Echoes of the same story are found throughout this capital in
its public monuments, in particular the Freedmen’s monument, the Lincoln Memorial,
and the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. The designers of these monuments showed a
fitting modesty in honoring their subjects, unlike a certain plan underfoot today that
would erect an architectural selfie. While Moses sought freedom from tyranny, he also
reminded us of a duty to a Higher Power and of the obligation to practice probity, justice,
and charity. This step launched our civilization on another journey, mysterious in its own
right, which holds out hope for consolation and final redemption.
From these two sources interacting in a complex dialectic comes the foundation of
our own republic, whose edifice rests on the twin pillars of veritas and caritas. In
gratitude to our founders, the message of my license plate, so prominently featured in the
video clip, needs decoding. It refers to the forty-ninth Federalist Paper, written by James
Madison, which defended the permanence of the Constitution against a prominent
proposal to rewrite it every generation. The tag is meant to remind all those who venture
onto our highways, especially the willful who tailgate, of the need to respect our
fundamental law.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge three institutions with which I’ve had the
privilege to work that are devoted to maintaining our heritage of free government: the
Jack Miller Center, the Hoover Institution, and the Bradley Foundation. I think of the
Bradley Foundation as defending the academy within the academy. Through its support
over the years for a program to produce Ph.D.s, the Bradley Foundation has enforced an
Endangered Species Act of its own within Higher Education, protecting a threatened
population of those faithful to the ends of the old Academy as they struggle upstream
against powerful currents. Investing in future scholars and thinkers is a costly venture
with no guaranteed rate of return. One thing, however, is certain. Higher education at this
level cannot be a mass enterprise. Just as the West was won inch by inch, the effort to
create tomorrow’s teachers must precede one soul at a time.