is a great honor to be asked to deliver the Russell Kirk lecture.
It is good to see my old friend, Ed Feulner, and let me offer how
grateful I am that there is a Heritage Foundation. It performs an
absolutely indispensable task of providing policy guidance to all
of us in Congress. Whether we ask for it or not, we get it, and it
is invaluable. So, I salute you for supporting this great
have come to the end, as we are painfully aware, of a tumultuous
century. I think in terms of centuries rather than millennia
because like a billion dollars I find a millennium hard to
contemplate. But in terms of the last century, we have gone from
the Model-T to supercomputers to the exploration of deep space. We
survived two world wars, numerous conflagrations, police actions,
revolutions, a huge depression, and some lesser economic
setbacks--in all it has been quite a century.
we press our noses against the window pane of the next century we
consider the fact that we have unlocked the secrets of the atom and
thereby handed ourselves the keys to destruction of the planet if
the wrong forces get hold of that power. We are told that some 20
countries have the capacity to join the nuclear club. More and more
as time goes on, we are unlocking the secrets of biology, and we
may be handing ourselves the key to manipulating human life by
are on the brink of some amazing advances. Some may view them as
steps backward, but one should look forward only with great
anticipation. The discoveries in medicine and pharmaceuticals are
going to be revolutionary. They will soon, I am sure, find a cure
to Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis, heart
disease, and it is going to be great to see and benefit.
the exploration of deep space, I am told we have reached the end of
chemicals as a propellant, that they have gone as far as they can
go, and we are going to have to power our explorations with nuclear
fission or fusion or some other power, but it is going to be quite
History has a lot to teach us as a marker
for the future, and I think that 137 years ago this November, in a
little cemetery in Pennsylvania, one of Illinois' most illustrious
sons, Abraham Lincoln, asked a very haunting question: whether a
nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that
all men are created equal can long endure. That question has been
asked of every generation that has come along, and will continue to
be asked because we have to provide an answer to and for it in our
was so pleased to hear Ed Feulner talk about the requirements for
graduation embracing a study of Western civilization as well as
American history because the Declaration of Independence, our
country's birth certificate, has within the compass of a very few
words a magnificent statement on Western civilization: "We hold
these truths"--truths, not opinions--"to be self-evident"--that is,
beyond argument--"that all men"--meaning, all mankind, all members
of the human family--"are created equal and are endowed by their
creator." That means an endowment, not an achievement. In other
words, by virtue of our humanity, we are endowed by our
creator--the source of our human dignity, the source of our human
rights--with certain inalienable rights, among which are life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving
their just power from the consent of the governed." What a
revolutionary thought! Power comes from the creator to the people
and is then consigned temporarily to the rulers of the people, not
directly to the rulers, as had been the practice and the belief for
so many centuries. And so we learn from studying our Founding
Fathers that democracy is more than a process. It is more than
establishing a set of rules as to how we shall litigate, how we
shall sue each other, but a democracy, envisioned by our Founding
Fathers, that assigns value, intrinsic value, to every human being
because each human being is made in the image and likeness of God,
and we are endowed by our creator with inalienable rights, the
right to life, the right to liberty, the right to pursue
so, as we study the beginnings of our nation, we understand that to
have a virtuous kingdom it is enough perhaps to have a virtuous
king, but you cannot have a successful democracy without a virtuous
people. And that is where today's great problem comes forward.
rule of law is a concept that has identified America since the days
of Madison and Jefferson and Hamilton. And the rule of law is best
described as a three-legged stool. The first leg is an honest
judge, the second leg is an ethical bar, and the third leg is an
oath that is enforceable. And if you take any one of those legs
away you have damaged, you have up-ended, you have destabilized the
rule of law, and the rule of law is what protects you and protects
me from the arbitrary fist in the tavern or the fire on the roof or
the knock on the door at three o'clock in the morning.
Every generation has its ailments. Ours
today is cynicism born of the failure, the default, of our leaders
to measure up to the high ideals, to the virtuous people, that were
envisioned when they drew up the Constitution and the predicate to
it, the Declaration of Independence.
culture has been suffering because we now have the blessing, or
bane, of telecommunications. And so the good can get disseminated
but it also can get overwhelmed by the bad, by the violence and the
immorality that is the stock-in-trade of our entertainment. Our
culture is how we think and how we live, and our culture has been
declining, to use the phrase of Senator Moynihan, "defining
These are serious problems because how we
raise our children is the most important thing we have to do in
life. And they are being forced to confront materialism, egoism, so
many things that are negative, so many things that are the
opposite, I think, of what they and we are intended and is our
responsibility. We have let it happen. We have tolerated too much.
And so I think if there is any message that I would have today, it
is the need for us to be vigilant as parents and as grandparents
and as citizens to what our children are learning and, maybe more
importantly, what they are not learning.
Russell Kirk wrote some magnificent books.
The Roots of American Order is one
that I am particularly fond of. But he also wrote a book that his
wife, Annette, was kind enough to send me on Edmund Burke, and I
developed a very strong feeling for Edmund Burke. I always knew I
liked the guy, but I did not know how well until I read Russell
Burke spent about 30 years in Parliament.
He wasn't much for term limits either, and he was in the minority
all of the time, but he was an influence far beyond his office. He
supported the Irish when they were being persecuted by the British.
He supported the American Revolution as much as he could
effectively. He also prosecuted an impeachment, only his took seven
years and was similarly unsuccessful. He sought the impeachment of
Warren Hastings for misdeeds in India. Anyone who is conservative
like Edmund Burke and who has those events color his life, it is
natural that I would develop an affection for him.
have always thought of Charles de Gaulle, something he said that is
similar to something Oliver Wendell Holmes said. Oliver Wendell
Holmes said, "A man must take part in the actions and passions of
his time at the peril of being judged not to have lived."
Gaulle said it a little simpler but expressed the same idea about
his country. He said that France would not be true to herself if
she weren't engaged in some great enterprise. That is true of all
of us. We are not true to ourselves if we aren't engaged in some
great enterprise, something bigger than we are, something that will
outlast us, something that makes the world a better place. And that
great enterprise that you are engaged in, which consumes your time,
is the enterprise of freedom.
understand freedom. We know how painfully it is acquired and how
painfully it is maintained, but freedom is worth it and we know
that. So I salute you for your being deeply immersed and engaged in
the struggle to preserve, protect, and advance our freedom as
Americans. And I will leave you with a toast that I learned from
Ronald Reagan's older brother some years ago. "Here is to those who
love us. And to those who don't, may the Lord turn their heart. And
to those that won't turn, may he turn their ankles so we know them
by their limping."
The Honorable Henry Hyde, a
Republican, represents the 6th District of Illinois in the U.S.
House of Representatives. He also is the Chairman of the House
Judiciary Committee. Rep. Hyde spoke at a meeting of The Heritage
Foundation's President's Club on May 15, 2000.