December 9, 2002 | Lecture on Political Thought
Thank you for that very warm welcome, and thank you to the Heritage Foundation for inviting me to this very special meeting of the President's Club this evening. I want to congratulate Heritage for the terrific work that you do to help build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish.
As a longtime participant in our political process, I do want to say how much I appreciate--and so many of my colleagues appreciate--the tremendous work that Heritage has done over the years. It's meant a great deal to us, especially when we come back to government and need the push and the drive that new ideas and new people give us. And Heritage has been a very important part of that.
Building an America where opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish is not a job for the impatient or for the fainthearted. It takes courage, determination, and brains, and an unwavering commitment to principle. All these virtues were embodied in the career of one of America's greatest conservatives, Clare Boothe Luce. It is fitting that the Heritage Foundation has chosen to name its highest award after her. And it is equally fitting that you have chosen to present the Clare Boothe Luce Award to Lady Margaret Thatcher. Whenever I think of Margaret Thatcher, I can't help but recall the final lines from Shakespeare's King John, "Naught shall make us rue if England to itself do rest but true."
In the course of the 20th century there were many who sought to make us rue the fundamental commitments of our civilization: our commitments to limited government, to free markets, to democracy, pluralism, and the rule of law. In the end, though, it was freedom's enemies who were made to rue. And a good deal of the credit for that happy outcome belongs to Lady Thatcher.
I have no doubt that historians will be analyzing Lady Thatcher's achievements for years and decades and perhaps even centuries to come. To me, however, what stands out about Lady Thatcher's career is that she has always been true to England--to the values, the traditions and ideas that have enabled her small island to play such a huge role in human events.
Like all great English men and women, Lady Thatcher has a passionate love of freedom, a bone-deep contempt for tyrants, and a willingness to do whatever is necessary to ensure freedom's triumph. Lady Thatcher has also been blessed with the sturdy British common sense to see through all of the high-sounding rationalizations and justifications for state control of the economy, and to recognize socialism for what it is--a recipe for collective failure and national ruin.
Throughout her career, Lady Thatcher has always demonstrated a bulldog-like British tenacity in standing by her convictions and her friends--not only when times were good, but even and especially when the going got tough. As she famously said of herself, "This lady is not for turning."
When the 20th century is seen years hence through the long lens of history, two defining themes will surely stand out: the clashes between socialism and capitalism, and between totalitarianism and democracy. When future generations learn how capitalism triumphed over socialism, and how the West won the Cold War against Soviet communism, you will figure in that story as a central hero.
Political and economic freedom prevailed because your political leadership in Britain--like that of your unfailing friend and ally Ronald Reagan in America--was guided not by consensus but by conviction.
In recognizing your courageous leadership in the face of great opposition, we recall the words you spoke in tribute to Ronald Reagan on his 80th birthday:
It takes struggles in life to make strength. It takes fight for principles to make fortitude. It takes crises to give courage. And it takes singleness of purpose to reach an objective.
Vice President Cheney, you pay me particular distinction by your presence here this evening, and I am delighted that you have been allowed to "break cover." Indeed, you remind me of another intrepid warrior for justice. As the verse goes:
They seek him here, they seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in Heaven? Is he in Hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel!
I am enormously honoured to receive this award. It bears the name of one of the most remarkable Americans of her day; and it has previously been given to other great Americans. It is inspiring to be in such company--and wonderful, as always at Heritage, to be among true friends.
Clare Boothe Luce's generation fought the twin evils of Nazism and communism. She was indeed in the forefront of that fight. Nazism was defeated in her lifetime. Communism was defeated in ours--defeated above all through the efforts of that great American President, my friend Ronald Reagan. His name is remembered in the title of this building. And it will be remembered for as long as there are men and women on this earth who value their liberty and honor those who secure it.
Ronnie's successor in the White House today faces a different but no less mighty challenge. The success in Afghanistan demonstrated that the doubters were wrong: the War Against Terror can be won. But we still confront today a twin-headed monster of terrorism and of proliferating weapons of mass destruction. And both those heads must be removed if the beast itself is to be destroyed.
Evil, it is true, has always been with us. But evil was never so technically sophisticated, never so elusive, never so devoid of scruple, and never so anxious to inflict civilian casualties. The West must prevail--or else concede a reign of global lawlessness and violence unparalleled in modern times.
I am glad that America's commander in chief is made of such stern stuff--glad too that he is assisted by Vice President Cheney and others in this room. I am also proud that Britain stands where we must always stand--as America's surest and staunchest ally. Prime Minister Blair and I are, as is well known, political opponents. But in this vital matter I salute his strong, bold leadership.
My friends: as the life of Clare Boothe Luce demonstrated, something more is required in politics than simple pragmatism. It is, of course, necessary to learn all the facts, to seek the best advice, to reflect on the options before you decide the course to take. But experience shows that if you lack a coherent set of beliefs and principles, you will flounder. You must know already what you want, and why, and broadly how best to attain it if you are ever to deal effectively with the thousand-and-one crises that face you in government.
That is why think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation are so crucial. Your clarity of vision, based on a wise understanding of what limited government in a free country requires, has allowed Heritage to make an outstanding contribution to America. And not just America. One mark of a country's political development is whether its politicians take seriously the prescriptions offered by Heritage scholars to cure a nation's ills. And I'm sure, Ed [Heritage Foundation President Edwin Feulner], that you would agree?
Heritage is the sworn enemy of over-regulation, over-taxation, social engineering, health fascism, and environmentalist hysteria. It is the friend of opportunity, incentives, free trade, an effective rule of law, national sovereignty, and strong defense. And so say all of us!
It would be a sad day if conservatives failed to recognize how immensely positive the results of that approach have been. And it would be altogether inexplicable if this happened when our opponents have reluctantly seen the merit of conservative insights and policies. Thankfully, the likelihood of such folly is diminished every time another Heritage Backgrounder lands on a politician's desk. Please keep them landing!
America today is the only global super-power. Like it or not--and, on balance, I do like it--that is a fact. Only America has the reach and means to deal with Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or the other wicked psychopaths who will sooner or later step into their shoes. The rest of the world can and should do more. But so often wealthy countries with much to offer and more to lose just cheer--or grumble--on the side-lines.
... Sail on O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate.
Margaret Thatcher served as Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1979-1990.