Freedom and Vigilance (Introductory Remarks)

Christopher DeMuth

President Reagan, you honor the American Enterprise Institute and the goals we share by being with us this evening and accepting AEI’s Francis Boyer Award for 1988.

Your years in office have had a transforming effect on Washington—and also on the American Enterprise Institute. AEI has been engaged in public policy research for forty-five years now. For most of these years, ours was a lonely voice crying in the wilderness. And how exhilarating, how deeply gratifying it was! As the Tom Lehrer ditty goes, "They may have had the best armies, but we had all the best songs." To dissent boldly, to demonstrate with analytical precision the follies of the great and powerful, to be gloriously on the attack against an implacable establishment—these were our accustomed roles, and we performed them with relish.

But since you came to town things just haven’t been the same. First you impressed into public service many of AEI’s most accomplished scholars. Then, through your leadership, many of the ideas they and you had been writing about for so many years became actual policy. And finally, many of these ideas, when put to the test, yielded exactly the benefits you had predicted—for domestic prosperity, for national security and international peace, for the spread of democratic capitalism around the world.

All this success has left those of us who were trained in the skills of dissent and debunking—thinking we had a lifetime’s work ahead of us—in a very awkward position. The job retraining program does not apply to economists and political scientists; nor is import relief available, since your revolution has been so thoroughly American.

Now I must say that AEI has not been altogether disarmed. We have, as you may have noticed, registered the occasional mild reproach, the polite and respectful suggestion for improvement; as you are yourself a man of ideas, you have surely understood our restlessness. And for all our innate skepticism, we have never been of the despairing, decline-of-the-West school of thought: from Wattenberg to Novak, from Kristol to Burns to Scalia, our iconoclasm has usually been that of the optimist and ever-hopeful reformer, just as yours has been. That you have actually achieved so many of the reforms we had hoped for is therefore reason for the deepest satisfaction—and a galvanizing reminder of the importance of our work in the years ahead, whatever transitory defeats or successes we may encounter.

For you have taught us that ideas and power—the best songs and the best armies—are not the irreconcilable forces intellectuals have often (consolingly) supposed and can indeed be potent allies. At the same time, you have taught us that the policy ideas we at AEI traffic in—however true, however skillfully extracted from the tangle of human experience, however brilliantly propounded—are of small moment in practical affairs until they are catalyzed by that rare and ineffable human substance: political leadership.

You have said, Mr. President, that facts are stubborn things. I must quarrel (true to form!) with this proposition. Facts are not stubborn; they are merely inanimate. They acquire their capacity to stop or move the world only in the hands of men stubborn in the pursuit of large ideals—such as you have been, such as you have taught us to be.

Christopher DeMuth is the president of AEI.

Gerald R. Ford

I am delighted to be part of this tribute to President Ronald Reagan. I must say, President Reagan, you’re not the first occupant of the White House to benefit from the wisdom of AEI scholars—nor the first to make ample contributions to AEI’s research staff in return. Arthur Burns, Bob Bork, Nino Scalia, Jim Miller, and Larry Silberman are only a few of those who served with great distinction in my administration who later became prominent members of the AEI team—and who were fit, willing, and able to return to public service under your administration.

These examples illustrate the critical role AEI has come to play in American government—not only as a source of independent policy research of the highest quality but as a source of men and women who combine great intellectual abilities with practical experience in the rough-and-tumble world of politics. I know that President-elect Bush—another individual who held important posts in the Reagan administration and the Ford administration and has been very closely associated with AEI over the years—will rely heavily on both the Institute’s analyses and its people in the very challenging years ahead.

Eleven years ago this evening I was honored to deliver AEI’s first Boyer Lecture—an address that, Chris DeMuth reminds me, concluded with a ranging call for tax reductions as the best key to economic progress. Let me assure you, it is a great pleasure and a high honor to be here tonight to hear President Reagan’s address, with his views after an exciting and, I’m sure, productive day, and after eight years of outstanding leadership in the White House.

President Reagan, I salute you for your superb achievements in office, and I want to assure you that there is life after Washington. We are both firm believers in individual liberty—and I know you will be as happy as I was to have a little of it back for yourself after living in the gilded cage on Pennsylvania Avenue. Betty joins me in wishing that the years ahead will be healthy, prosperous, and full of joy for you and your Nancy.

Gerald Ford was the thirty-eighth president of the United States and a distinguished fellow of AEI.

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick

President Reagan honors AEI by accepting the Francis Boyer Award for outstanding contributions in public policy. It is especially appropriate that he should receive this award, since he not only contributed to restoring a more appropriate, effective balance between the public and the private sectors but also provided the leadership we needed, when we needed it most.

Ronald Reagan was elected fortieth president of the United States at a time when the pendulum in our country and in the world had swung far toward reliance on government and collectivist strategies to solve personal, social, and economic difficulties.

Inevitably policies based on these strategies failed, confidence faltered, and tyranny expanded. To a deteriorating situation, Ronald Reagan brought his vision of America and the world. It is a vision informed by freedom.

Freedom, President Reagan reminded a doubting world, can solve the problems of poverty and war. Freedom can stimulate growth and enable diverse peoples to live together in peace.

With a persistence and flexibility that astonished friend and foe, President Reagan worked against what he defined as the two great problems confronting mankind in our century—totalitarianism and the threat of nuclear war.

Though it is rarely possible to determine definitively what causes what in history, it cannot be denied that totalitarian controls have been loosened and the threat of nuclear war and great power confrontation has receded significantly during the years Ronald Reagan has worked on the problems.

His friend the prime minister of Great Britain spoke for many in the world when she said earlier this year,

You have done the greatest possible service not only to your own people but to free people everywhere; you have restored faith in the American dream, a dream of boundless opportunity built on enterprise, individual effort, and personal generosity. When we compare the mood of confidence and opportunity in the West today with the mood when you took office in 1980, we know that a greater change has taken place than we ever could have imagined.

With the Boyer Award, AEI salutes the author of these changes.

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick is a senior fellow at AEI.

Irving Kristol

As Ronald Reagan prepares to leave the White House, he also leaves those of us who study American politics and American history with an interesting question: What is it that has made him so successful a president—indeed so successful a democratic statesman?

A successful American statesman is one whose tenure in office is seen by his countrymen as representing a permanent contribution to the shaping of our democratic destiny. He is viewed as having expanded democratic horizons while nourishing the democratic spirit and reinforcing the popular commitment to self-government.

It is astonishing how few such presidents we have had. And it is surprisingly difficult to isolate the qualities that distinguish those few, as against the others.

Apart from the Founding Fathers, who were a special case, I think there have been only four truly successful democratic presidents who were also democratic statesmen: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. There have been other very good presidents, of course, and other estimable presidencies, but—and it may just have been a case of unpropitious circumstances—none that achieved this particular distinction.

Ronald Reagan, I think it is fair to say, is the president who has inaugurated the post–New Deal era in American history. Not by repudiating the past—Americans are very traditional people who do not repudiate their past easily. This attachment to tradition is the main anchor of democratic stability, no matter how turbulent the times or how frenetic our politics.

No, what Ronald Reagan has done is to incorporate our past into a new perspective on the American future, of which he has given us the outlines. Only the outlines—perhaps out of courtesy to his vice president and our president-elect, he has left us with much filling-in to do. But the outlines are clear enough—a rediscovery of the importance of individual self-reliance, without which programs incorporating political compassion end up in perpetual frustration; a renewed emphasis on those moral values that bind individuals to their families and communities and that give ultimate meaning to their lives; an affirmation of individual enterprise, energized by low rates of taxation, as the key to economic growth; and, perhaps most important, a revival of that spirit of patriotism that enables Americans to confront the world with a vigorous self-confidence that we once seemed to have lost forever.

And it is not only in the United States that he has inaugurated this new era, but for much of the world as well. The impact of his presidency is being felt within the Communist world and in the nations of the developing world, as well as the democracies—something no one would have thought possible only a few years ago. In nation after nation, a new economic environment is emerging. In accomplishing this, President Reagan has been not just a successful democratic statesman for the United States but an exemplar of the successful democratic statesman for his world. In this respect, he may be the very first.

So, thank you, Mr. President, for your service to our country and to our world. It has been a privilege to be a witness to your eight years in office.

Irving Kristol is the John M. Olin Distinguished Fellow at AEI.

Michael Novak

Mr. President, thank you for accomplishing what on January 20, 1981, you said you would: A New Beginning. You said on that day—I must quote your words, but if I can’t quite sing your music, I hope you will forgive me:

We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the earth. Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is a time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. . . .

It’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work—work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not on our back.

If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much and prospered as no other people on earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. . . . With all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal.

Mr. President, permit me also to recall the First Inaugural of an earlier president:

Entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter—with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one more thing, fellow citizens—wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.

Thus, Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Mr. President, taking Thomas Jefferson’s words as your own, you made "a new beginning" and not only for the United States. Many nations are now imitating your policies. As the main source of hope for the world’s poor, they too are turning from government activists to economic activists, that is, to all the people.

Historians tell us that what our framers meant by "revolution" was a turning back to founding principles—in Latin, a re-volvere—a going back to true beginnings.

Was there a Reagan Revolution? Mr. President, it was not exactly a "Reagan" revolution. It was "the American Revolution," now well into its third century, reestablished by you upon our founding principles.

As the founders humbly dared to hope, Mr. President, this American Revolution heralded "a new order" of basic rights for all humanity and for all the ages. This novus ordo seclorum was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that every man and every woman everywhere is created equal. All around the world today—even in Mr. Gorbachev’s USSR, if glacially—whole peoples are turning toward these shining principles.

May this revolution last forever, Mr. President, and may your name be linked with its renewal, at this time, in this age, for as many generations yet to come as God sees fit to bless America.

For beginning anew the American Revolution, Mr. President, the revolution of natural liberty, the revolution that belongs to all humanity, we thank you.

Michael Novak is the George F. Jewett Scholar at AEI.

Presentation of Boyer Award
Willard C. Butcher

The Boyer Award and Lecture Series was established by the SmithKline Beckman Corporation in memory of its late chairman, Francis Boyer. The bearer of Mr. Boyer’s tradition and the current chairman of SmithKline Beckman, Henry Wendt, is with us tonight, and I want to recognize Henry at this time.

The Boyer Award and lectureship is selected by AEI’s Council of Academic Advisers, chaired by Gale Johnson of the University of Chicago. It is given each year to an individual who has made notable contributions to enlarging our understanding of the proper relationship between the public and private sectors and who therefore has importantly served the public interest.

Sir, in presenting this year’s award to you and you to this audience, I do so with profound respect, everlasting gratitude, and enormous affection.

Willard C. Butcher is the chairman of the Board of Trustees at AEI.

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About the Author




Kristol (1920-2009)
  • Irving Kristol is widely considered to be the founder of American neoconservatism. He was the managing editor of Commentary magazine from 1947 to 1952 and the cofounder of the U.K.-based Encounter. After eight years as the executive vice president of Basic Books, Mr. Kristol became a professor of social thought at the New York University Graduate School of Business. In July 2002, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.



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