Irving Kristol Award and Lecture for 2005
Introductory Remarks

View Mario Vargas Llosa's lecture.

Christopher DeMuth
President, AEI

Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, President Aznar, distinguished guests, welcome to the American Enterprise Institute's 2005 Annual Dinner and Irving Kristol Lecture. My AEI colleagues and I are gratified that such a large and accomplished congregation should be gathered here this evening. We are especially grateful for the generous support of our good friends at Pfizer and of the esteemed ladies and gentlemen of our Dinner Committee.

President Bush's bold recasting of American foreign policy, and stirring recent developments in Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and now throughout the Middle East, maybe more this afternoon, maybe Iran is next, have given us what Michael Novak wrote of in a 2004 book--"some faint reason to believe that the narrative of liberty will not be finished until it has suffused every society on Earth." Of course Michael and the rest of us at AEI are hard-boiled realists when it comes to foreign policy. We hold that the facts of human aspiration are what they are and must be faced without illusion, and that only the most woolly headed ideologue could ignore them.

The past two years have been harsh and brutal for the people of Iraq and for the men and women of the American and coalition military forces. Many good people have been killed and many have suffered, among them several guests here this evening. Our hearts have been seared and broken many times but our resolve has not been broken--quite the contrary. Now, with the dramatic events of the past two months, dare we hope that we have arrived at the end of the beginning? Can freedom turn the tide against such maniacal cruelty? In the Cold War, it was not only our military might but also our personal and political freedoms that gave us the strength that prevailed in the end. For the duration those freedoms had often appeared to be softness, handicaps in a mortal struggle. But freedom is not soft. It is hard to win and hard to practice, and the institutions it gives rise to--those of liberal democracy and competitive enterprise--are correspondingly adamant and resilient. Now Islamist and secular tyrants and terrorists hold freedom in the same contempt that the Soviets once did; now the Soviets await them in the ash heap.

This year's Irving Kristol Award is being bestowed on a man whose wondrous literary achievements are more than deserving of that recognition. But Mario Vargas Llosa is also a man of deeply considered political judgments, and the careful student of his fiction and his essays will see the connections. We are honored that he has accepted our award and look forward to his Kristol Lecture with great anticipation.

The Kristol Award will be presented by James Q. Wilson, chairman of the AEI Council of Academic Advisers and Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University. Mr. Vargas Llosa will then be introduced by his friend Jose Maria Aznar, two-term President of Spain from 1996 through 2004 and currently President of the Foundation for Analysis and Social Studies in Madrid. Please hold your applause for now, but when the time comes let us also recognize President Aznar for his brilliant leadership of his nation, which produced the largest gains in economic welfare in all of Spanish history; for his courageous friendship with the United States of America; and for his continuing adamant devotion to the cause of liberty.

James Q. Wilson
Chairman, AEI Council of Academic Advisers

The Council of Academic Advisers is proud to have selected Mario Vargas Llosa to receive the Irving Kristol prize. In doing this we take note that this famed novelist was praised by the New York Times for having written a "fierce, edgy, and enthralling book" that has "lasting emotional resonance."

Some of you may be surprised to learn that AEI shares the judgment of the New York Times. I would remind you that even a stopped clock is correct twice a day.

Never fear. In his long and illustrious writing career, Vargas Llosa, the author of countless books and stories of the highest caliber, has moved from an early flirtation with communism to become an outspoken defender of human freedom. In one memorable sentence he wrote this: "prosperity or egalitarianism, you have to choose. I favor freedom--you never achieve real equality anyway; you simply sacrifice prosperity for an illusion."

Vargas Llosa is a liberal in the classic sense of the term. "Liberalism," he wrote, is a doctrine that is a "relatively simple and clear combination of basic principles," in particular a defense of "political and economic liberty." It teaches no political dogma other than to oppose "dictatorships and collectivist utopias." In his view, that opposition has begun to sweep Latin America even if the realization of democratic regimes is still incomplete.

One of his earliest writings was his doctoral thesis about the celebrated novelist, Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Later, after Garcia Márquez had endorsed Fidel Castro and Vargas Llosa had embraced freedom, the two men met in a Mexico City theater. An argument ensued, at the climax of which Vargas Llosa punched Garcia Márquez. This may be the only time in scholarly history in which a dissertation author has pummeled the subject of his thesis.

In 1990, Vargas Llosa ran unsuccessfully for president of Peru, being defeated by Alberto Fujimori. He ran, not because he is an ambitious politician, but because he cared deeply about his native country. It was under siege from the left-wing Shining Path movement and crippled by a president who had created massive inflation. It was, at best, a fragile democracy. He wanted to rescue it. But he lost, and readily admitted that he had the skills of a novelist, not those of a politician. To prove it he wrote a book about his electoral experiences, suitably entitled A Fish in the Water.

In it he restates with great clarity his view that "economic freedom [is] inseparable from political freedom," and that is because the way out of the poverty that has gripped Peru lies not in redistributing the little wealth that exists but in creating more." Throughout Latin America, he wrote, countries have refused to choose prosperity because their regimes, both from the right wing and the left wing, have chosen instead a corrupt form of populism. But despite his country’s need to overcome these burdens, Vargas Llosa readily admitted that "I was no good at politics."

Our respect for him does not depend on his doubtful skills as a politician but on his undoubted commitment to human freedom. He has come to that commitment from both imaginative writing and practical experience. On behalf of the AEI Council of Academic Advisers, I present to him the Irving Kristol Award for 2005. The inscription reads as follows:

To Mario Vargas Llosa
Whose narrative art and political thought
Illumine the universal quest for freedom--
Which the virtues love and the follies require.

In return he will give the Irving Kristol Lecture, but first we will hear from his old friend, Jose Maria Aznar, the former President of Spain, who is a great ally of freedom and a firm opponent of terrorism.

Jose Maria Aznar
Former President of Spain

When I first heard about the possibility of being here tonight, among you, in order to make some introductory words about my friend Mario Vargas Llosa, I have to say that I was more than pleased.

First, because this is an AEI event. AEI is the cradle where the ideas I believe in have been nurtured and developed, the place where they are constantly brought forward. Being a liberal in Spain--liberal in the European sense, don’t get me wrong--is not an easy endeavor, even worse for a neoconservative. Thus the importance of having an intellectual lighthouse powerful enough to make a difference in the dark times we are living in nowadays, particularly on the other side of the Atlantic. So being here is sincerely a great pleasure for me.

Secondly, we are gathered to present this year's Irving Kristol Award. I first met Mr. Kristol only this evening, though I have known of his intellectual stature and know his son, Bill. I invited Bill to have coffee in my office a couple of times when I was President, and later on, after I left government, he invited me for lunch. You know, asymmetries are unavoidable when you place austerity at the core of your fiscal and budgetary policy. Now, the opportunity of speaking during the Irving Kristol Award ceremony also allows me to pay a small tribute to him and his work. Mr. Kristol, you can be sure that you have many followers and friends in Spain.

Finally, I am thrilled of having the opportunity to introduce my close friend Mario Vargas Llosa. He is much more than an excellent writer. The night before the Spanish general elections of 1996--the first elections I won--Mario insisted in taking me to the theatre in order to help me escape from the tensions of the day. I remember we saw Tennessee Williams’s play, "Cat on A Hot Tin Roof." Mario was one of the first people I invited to my official residence once I took office.

You may not know that Mario Vargas Llosa became a Spanish citizen in 1993, even though he has not yet settled down in Madrid, despite all my efforts. He told me once that he could not live in Madrid if he wanted to keep working. "Jose Maria," he said, "You cannot live under permanent temptation, because, in the end, you are permanently enticed by temptation. And life in Madrid is an endless but divine temptation." I offered to make him the head of the Cervantes Institute, our main national tool for promoting the Spanish language, but he kindly declined. He was fully committed to his work.

It is common to talk about engaged writers, though I don’t understand why it is generally accepted that such figures are always from the left. Mario Vargas Llosa proves that wrong. He is committed--but, totally opposing the totalitarian inclination of the left, he is truly committed to liberty and individual dignity. His commitment is always present in his fictional work, in his articles and essays, and, more important, in his life. Mario not only creates magic worlds with his words, he is also a fighter against the wrong ideas. As President of the International Foundation for Freedom, Mario is in a constant battle, trying to help to reinforce democratic institutions, something painfully needed today in Latin America, a battle we must pursue together in light of what we are witnessing in places like Venezuela.

Hans Magnus Ezensberger, the critical German author, recently said that the majority of intellectuals are neither intelligent nor a moral example. But there is always an exception. I do believe Mario Vargas Llosa is the exception to this rule, since he is very intelligent and always a moral example.

I will not make the mistake tonight of revealing what fiction work by Mario I love most, but I feel free to say that I find one of his best A Fish in the Water, his outstanding memoirs. I would like to encourage all of you to rush into a bookshop and buy it after dinner. I have nothing to do with the publisher, I promise. But it is a book where you will sense the deep responsibility of a free man defending freedom for the rest of us.

The world of literature is not a very generous one, to put it mildly. But I consider it a blatant injustice that the Nobel Prize has not yet been awarded to Mario. Tonight we are offering him a small reparation for this. Nonetheless, I do hope that the jury in Stockholm will correct this historical oversight as soon as possible.

Let me conclude by saying, that being a writer myself, though of a very different kind--a sort of pupil if you like--it is a real privilege to call forth and give the floor to Mario Vargas Llosa, the outstanding writer, the amazing person, and, above all, my good friend.

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