AEI Annual Dinner speech 2017


ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome
AEI President Arthur C. Brooks. (Applause.) ARTHUR BROOKS: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
Please take your seats. Our program is about to begin. Good evening. I’m Arthur Brooks. I’m president
of the American Enterprise Institute. I am so honored to be with you tonight and so grateful
to see all of you. This is a celebration we look forward to every single year. This is
our 2017 AEI Annual Dinner and Irving Kristol Award. We’re here tonight with old friends and
new friends, good food, in this beautiful setting to celebrate the community that we
in this room have built together. AEI is a community of 250 scholars and staff and 1,600
donors all around the country. We were founded 79 years ago to fight for free enterprise,
to promote American leadership in the world, to enhance the competition of ideas by uniting
scholarly excellence with moral excellence. This evening is an annual celebration that
we have been able to accomplish so many things together in the past year. As our closest
friends, I don’t have to tell you all the things that we’ve done and that we do. Our
work starts with cutting-edge research from dozens of fields, from tax reform to national
security and terrorism to international trade, geopolitics, education reform, everything
in between. How do we use the research? We share ideas
with policymakers. Many of them are here tonight, and we thank them for coming. We convene the
world’s leading policy experts. We communicate with millions of people on social media. We
expand their presence and expand the consciousness of young people around the country on dozens
— hundreds of college campuses nationwide. There’s a lot to be proud of here. You made
this possible, and I’m so grateful that I’m able to celebrate these accomplishments
with you. But tonight I want to remind you very briefly,
before we start our main program, none of what we do but rather for whom we do our work.
As much as I love the people in this room, and I do truly love you, we are not doing
our work for you. Rather, we’re doing our work for the people who are not in this room.
I’m talking about the people at the periphery of society all around the world, here in America,
around the world. I’m talking about those in despair over a stalled economy, looking
for opportunity, struggling to make ends meet, living with bigotry and discrimination, or
worried about their children’s economic future and educational opportunities. I’m
also talking about people all around the world who suffer from tyranny, poverty, and who
lack security and basic rights that we take for granted in the United States. At AEI,
my colleagues and I and you as our supporters, we’re warriors for these people. But I want to be clear on one other point.
It’s easy to see the people at the margins of society when there are some with so many,
with so much, and others with so little. It’s easy to see people at the margins of society
as charity cases, somehow as the other. At AEI, we know that this is incorrect. They
are our brothers and sisters, radically equal to us in every element of human dignity. We
have a sacred bond of solidarity with people at the margins. Why is this? And the answer is because people
at the margins are us. They mirror our origins. There are 1,800 different family stories in
this room. They’re all different. Some of your families, like mine, 100 years ago were
scratching out a living in some godforsaken village in Europe. Some of your ancestors
were running for their lives from a pogrom someplace. And some of your ancestors were
brought to this country involuntarily. Indeed, these are different stories, but what we all
have in common is that none of us came from power and privilege. Quite the contrary. This is a nation — America is a nation built
by outsiders. And so it’s with deep moral significance that we don’t just help those
at the periphery of society today, but we remember that they are the face of our ancestors.
They are effectively us. AEI fights for them. Since we’re about to hear in just a moment
from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, let me put my point in biblical terms. I think there’s one verse
from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures that summarizes AEI’s mission statement better than any
other. It’s Exodus 22:21. “Thou shalt not oppress a stranger for you know the heart
of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” That’s the why of
the American Enterprise Institute. It’s the reason my colleagues and I have dedicated
our work to what we do. And I daresay it’s why you’re here with us tonight. In the coming years, with your help, we will
be dedicated to bringing America back around to this philosophy as well. In the spiritual
of mutual respect, civil debate, national solidarity, and the competition of ideas that’s
central to our mission, AEI will fight for the dignity and potential of all people, especially
those who need it the most. Thank you for your support and friendship, and God bless
this great country. (Applause.) And now it’s on to our program. Tonight,
we’re honored to bestow AEI’s annual award, the Irving Kristol Award, named in the memory
of our friend and colleague, the late Irving Kristol. Before we introduce this year’s
winner, I’d like to turn the microphone over to my friend, Bill Kristol, son of Irving
Kristol, and editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard. He’s going to speak for a moment
about the legacy of his great father. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Kristol. (Applause.) WILLIAM KRISTOL: Thank you, Arthur. It’s
a pleasure to join in welcoming Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks here to Washington and to the
American Enterprise Institute and to congratulate him on being this year’s recipient of the
Irving Kristol Award. I’m old enough to remember when Rabbi Lord Sacks was just Rabbi
Sacks. But as an Anglophile and a Jew, I very much like the idea of these two titles or
honorifics coming together. (Laughter.) Maybe we should think about that over here. Actually,
as Yogi Berra said in a somewhat related case, when he was told that there was a Jewish mayor
of Dublin, Yogi Berra allegedly said, “Only in America.” (Laughter.) And that’s how
I feel about Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Actually, “only in America” was one of
my father’s, I think, favorite sayings. I remember him quoting that. He found that
useful as a saying several times. My mother is more of a “only in Great Britain” person.
But I do want to say that my father was and my mother is a great friend and a great admirer
of Rabbi Sacks. The lesser Kristols are also pleased to be friends and admirers of his.
And so we’re really thrilled that he’s this year’s Irving Kristol awardee. Rabbi Sacks has — my parents have both cited,
I believe, Rabbi Sacks’ work in their own work. They’re great, as I say, admirers
of his writings and speeches, and he’s been kind enough, I know, to blurb both the book
of my father’s writings on Judaism and Jewish-related topics, which came out posthumously, and I
believe at least one of my mother’s books on Britain and Judaism, Philo-Semitism in
England. And so they’ve each praised each other. And, unusually in these circumstances,
they’ve each actually read each other’s work. (Laughter.) It’s a shocking thing
to you and notably shocking to Rabbi Sacks to find out that occasionally in Washington
people blurb each other’s books without reading the entire book. But that is not the
case with either my father or my mother or Rabbi Sacks. So it’s really — I’m really
looking forward to hearing him today. I’ll just say a word in conclusion that
I think what’s distinguished for me always — and I think I speak for my father and
mother in saying this, too — the American Enterprise Institute from many other fine
public policy think tanks is that AEI has always been concerned, of course, about the
details and implementation of public policy, but also about the moral and cultural and
spiritual and intellectual underpinnings of free institutions and of free society. And
I think the honor that’s being bestowed on Rabbi Sacks tonight is really a demonstration
of the breadth and depth of AEI’s thought and the issues that the American Enterprise
Institute thinks are crucial to our future as a free society. So, again, I’m very pleased that Rabbi Sacks
is with us tonight. And, without further ado, I will yield the stage to Arthur Brooks, who
will keep us moving along. (Applause.) ARTHUR BROOKS: Thank you to Lord Editor Bill
Kristol. (Laughter.) Only in America. Amazing. Next, ladies and gentlemen, we have a very
special privilege of hearing from last year’s Kristol Award winner, Professor Robert George.
Professor George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University,
where he also serves as the founding director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals
and Institutions. We recognized Robbie last year with the Irving Kristol Award for his
incredible, immense contributions in a variety of fields, from constitutional law to moral
philosophy. He’s a close friend of Rabbi Sacks, and he’s going to take the podium
now to speak about his friend and this year’s Kristol Award winner, Rabbi Lord Jonathan
Sacks. Robbie George. (Applause.) ROBERT GEORGE: Thank you very much and good
evening, ladies and gentlemen. I will confess that last year when I had the honor of standing
before you to receive the 2016 Irving Kristol Award, I thought to myself, “It doesn’t
get better than this.” But it does, for this year I have the even greater honor of
rising to pay tribute to my beloved friend, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who will in a few
minutes receive the 2017 Irving Kristol Award. Rabbi Lord Sacks has been a prophetic voice,
bearing faithful witness to the most basic and precious human values: the sanctity of
human life and the inherent dignity of the human person as a creature fashioned in the
very image and likeness of God. The centrality and indeed indispensability
of marriage and the family as the original and best department of health, education,
and welfare and as the fundamental unit of society on which all other social institutions
depend for their health and success. Religious liberty and the very sacred rights
of conscience, the rule of law, freedom of speech on campus and in society, and other
inalienable rights and liberties to which people are entitled simply in virtue of their
humanity — to all of these precious values, Rabbi Sacks has borne witness. To moral virtues
and the principle of personal responsibility and accountability, the critical importance
of the little platoons, as they’re sometimes called, of civil society, and the limited
and subsidiary role of government in the lives of free people. The market economy, which
when properly ordered and uncorrupted by cronyism has provided the escape route out of poverty
for millions of precious members of the human family across the globe. The obligation of
truth-seeking and of living in line with the truth as God gives us to grasp the truth. Lord Sacks speaks and is heard and admired
and loved not only by those of his own Jewish faith and heritage, whom he has served tirelessly
and selflessly, but by people of every faith — Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Christians,
Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains — and indeed even by many who regard themselves
as secular. Rabbi Lord Sacks is admired and loved by me, among countless others. In England,
where I lived for five years and which I have visited at least once a year for the past
36 years, Rabbi Lord Sacks is regarded as the voice of faith not only by the tiny 2
percent of the population of the UK who are Jewish, but by Anglicans and Catholics and
by many Evangelical Protestants, Muslims, and Hindus as well. By dint of brilliance, moral courage, and
rootedness — deep rootedness in the faith of his fathers — the faith of Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob — Jonathan Sacks, this great witness to the highest and best values of our civilization
has become truly a teacher of all mankind. He is a blessing to the world. Arthur, the American Enterprise Institute
has done well. It has done brilliantly to honor Lord Sacks with this year’s Irving
Kristol Award. Thank you. (Applause.) ARTHUR BROOKS: And now, ladies and gentlemen,
on behalf of the entire AEI community of scholars, staff, and supporters, it is my honor to award
the American Enterprise Institute’s highest scholarly honor, the 2017 Irving Kristol Award,
to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. (Applause.) RABBI LORD JONATHAN SACKS: Beloved friends,
I want to thank you from the depths of my heart for your generosity tonight. I was almost
about to say that I’m moved beyond words, but the truth is no rabbi ever was moved beyond
words. (Laughter.) At the Burning Bush, Moses, the first rabbi of all time, said, “I am
not a man of words,” and then proceeded to speak for the next 40 years. (Laughter.)
So let me say briefly how grateful I am for three things. Number one, for the company I now join of
outstanding individuals and especially last year’s winner, who’s just so embarrassed
me, Robbie George, who’s done so much as the voice of vision and moral courage that
lies at the very heart of his and your and our vision of American life. Second, for the American Enterprise Institute
itself, one of the very greatest think tanks in the entire world and one from whom I have
learned more than any other. And I salute Arthur Brooks for his wonderful leadership
of this institution, and I wish all of you blessing and success. (Applause.) But lastly, and perhaps most importantly because
of the name that the award bears, the late Irving Kristol of blessed memory. Elaine and
I were privileged to count Irving, of blessed memory, and his incredible wife, Bea Gertrude
Himmelfarb, who is here with us tonight, as precious and cherished friends. Whenever we
were in Washington, they invited us to their home. They always encouraged me and my work.
They were so kind, they were so gracious, they were so generous of spirit. I always
had this cognitive dissonance because Irving was so vigorous, indeed sharp, in his writing
and so gentle and loving in his personality that he and Bea were role models who lifted
our hearts and expanded the horizon of our aspirations. There’s a prayer we say whenever we say
grace after meals — (foreign language spoken) — let us find grace and good intellect in
the eyes of God and our fellow human beings. Irving had great outstanding intellect, but
even before and above that, he had grace. So I dedicate my words tonight to his blessed
memory, and we wish Bea and Bill and all their wonderful family long life and blessing for
many years to come. (Applause.) Friends, these are really tempestuous times.
A few months ago, I asked a friend in Washington, “What’s it been like living in America
today?” And he said, “Well, it’s a little bit like the man standing on the deck of the
Titanic with a glass of whiskey in his hand and he’s saying, ‘I know I asked for ice,
but this is ridiculous.’” (Laughter.) So we’ve seen the emergence of what I call
a politics of anger. We have seen the culture of competitive victimhood. We have seen the
emergence of identity politics based on smaller and smaller identities of ethnicity and gender.
We’ve seen the new politics of grievance. We’ve seen the silencing of free speech
in our universities in the name of safe spaces. Just a few weeks ago, Balliol College Oxford,
Balliol College Oxford, the home of three prime ministers, of Adam Smith, of Gerard
Manley Hopkins, barred a Christian union for having a stall to recruit new students on
the grounds that a mere presence of a Christian in a group of students could be construed
as a microaggression. We have seen public discourse polluted by
fake news and the manipulation of social media. Not by accident did Oxford University — the
Oxford English Dictionary chooses its word that we would remember from 2016 as “post-truth.”
And we’ve seen the emergence of — reemergence in the West, certainly in Europe, of the far
right and the far left. And today, according to the rather expert survey that Bridgewater
Capital did recently, populist politics throughout the West is measurably at its highest levels
since the early 1930s. Hegel said that modern man has taken to reading
the daily newspaper in place of morning prayer. Today, when you finished reading the daily
newspaper, you need morning prayer. And all this is serious. Richard Weaver once said
the trouble with humanity is that it forgets to read the minutes of the last meetings.
And so for anyone who actually remembers history, the politics of anger that’s emerged in
our time is full of danger — if not now, then certainly in the foreseeable future. And although this is affecting the whole of
the West, I want tonight, for reasons which will become quite clear, to focus my remarks
on you and the United States of America. And the reason is that I want to give an analysis
that I think the late Irving Kristol would have understood because a love of Judaism
was absolutely central to his life. And because he knew that in America, democratic capitalism
had its roots in the Judeo-Christian heritage, specifically in the Hebrew Bible. You know, we often think of the Hebrew Bible
as simply a religious book, but it is actually a political text. I used to study Bible with
Tony Blair in 10 Downing Street when he was prime minister. It was done under the strictest
possible secrecy because God forbid the prime minister should read the Bible. And he once
turned to me and said, “Jonathan, how come your book is more interesting than our book?”
(Laughter.) And I replied, “Prime Minister, obviously, because there’s more politics
in our book than in your book.” So I want to just look at one little element
of biblical political theory, which I think is unique and which shows remarkable relevance
to the situation we’re in today. And I want to begin at a strange point, at a key moment
in political history in biblical Israel. You remember when the people came to Samuel and
said, “Appoint us a king.” And Samuel got really upset because he thought the people
were rejecting him and God said, “That’s nothing. I’m even more upset they’re rejecting
me.” They sound very much like two Jewish mothers sitting together discussing their
children. But God said to Samuel, “Spell out what having a king will actually mean.
He’ll seize your sons, your daughters, your produce, your land, i.e., taxes, and if they’re
still willing to pay the price, give them a king,” which is what happened.
And the commentators were all puzzled by this, and rightly so because does the Bible approve
of kings or not? If it does, why does God say that they’re rejecting him? And if it
doesn’t, why did God say give them one if they ask for it? And the reason the biblical
commentators were puzzled is because by and large, they weren’t political scientists.
But, actually, the meaning of that narrative is very simple. What happened in the days of the Prophet Samuel
is precisely a social contract, exactly on the lines set out by Thomas Hobbes in “The
Leviathan.” People are willing to give up certain of their rights, transfer them to
a central power, a king, a government, who undertakes to ensure the rule of law internally
and the defense of the realm externally. In fact, One Samuel, Chapter Eight is the first
recorded instance in all of history of a social contract. But what makes the Hebrew Bible unique and
really fascinating is the — and makes it completely different from Hobbes and Locke
and Jean-Jacque Rousseau is that this wasn’t the first founding moment of Israel as a nation,
as a political entity. It was in fact the second because the first took place centuries
earlier in the days of Moses at Mount Sinai when the people made with God not a contract
but a covenant. And those two things are often confused, but actually they’re quite different. In a contract, two or more people come together
to make an exchange. You pay your plumber — I have a Jewish friend in Jerusalem who
calls his plumber Messiah. (Laughter.) Why? Because we await him daily, and he never turns
up. (Laughter.) So in a contract, you make an exchange, which is to the benefit of the
self-interest of each. And so you have the commercial contract that creates the market
and the social contract that creates the state. A covenant isn’t like that. It’s more
like a marriage than an exchange. In a covenant, two or more parties each respecting the dignity
and integrity of the other come together in a bond of loyalty and trust to do together
what neither can do alone. A covenant isn’t about me. It’s about us. A covenant isn’t
about interests. It’s about identity. A covenant isn’t about me, the voter, or me,
the consumer, but about all of us together. Or in that lovely key phrase of American politics,
it’s about we, the people. The market is about the creation and distribution
of wealth. The state is about the creation and distribution of power. But a covenant
is about neither wealth nor power, but about the bonds of belonging and of collective responsibility.
And to put it as simply as I can, the social contract creates a state but the social covenant
creates a society. That is the difference. They’re different things. Biblical Israel had a society long before
it had a state, before it even crossed the Jordan and enter the land, which explains
why Jews were able to keep their identity for 2,000 years in exile and dispersion because
although they’d lost their state, they still had their society. Although they’d lost
their contract, they still had their covenant. And there is only one nation known to me that
had the same dual founding as biblical Israel, and that is the United States of America which
has — (applause) — which had its social covenant in the Declaration of Independence
in 1776 and its social contract in the Constitution in 1787. And the reason it did so is because the founders
of this country had the Hebrew Bible engraved on their hearts. Covenant is central to the
Mayflower Compact of 1620. It is central to the speech of John Winthrop aboard the Arbela
in 1630. It is presupposed in the most famous line of the Declaration of Independence. Listen to the sentence. See how odd it might
sound to anyone but an American. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all
men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.”
Those truths are anything but self-evident. They would have been unintelligible to Plato,
to Aristotle, or to every hierarchical society the world has ever known. They are self-evident
only to people, to Jews and Christians, who have internalized the Hebrew Bible. And that
is what made G. K. Chesterton call America a nation with the soul of a church. Now, what is more, every covenant comes with
a story. And the interesting thing is the Hebrew Bible and America have the same story.
It’s about what Lincoln called a new birth of freedom or, by any other name, what we
know as an exodus. The only difference is, in America, instead of the wicked Egyptians,
you had the wicked English. (Laughter.) Instead of a tyrant called Pharaoh, you had one called
King George III, and instead of crossing the Red Sea, you crossed the Atlantic. But it’s
OK. As a Brit, I want to say, after 241 years, we forgive you. (Laughter.) But that is why Jefferson drew as his design
for the great seal of America the Israelites following a pillar of cloud through the wilderness.
It is why Lincoln called Americans the almost chosen people. It is what led Martin Luther
King on the last night of his life to see himself as Moses and to say, “I’ve been
to the mountaintop and I have seen the Promised Land.” Now, why does this matter to America and to
the American Enterprise Institute? Because America understands more clearly than any
other Western nation that freedom requires not just a state, but also and even more importantly
a society, a society built of strong covenantal institutions, of marriages, families, congregations,
communities, charities, and voluntary associations. Alexis de Tocqueville rightly saw that these
were the buffers between the individual and the state and that what essentially thought
to democratic freedom, he thought all that exercise of responsibility and families and
communities was in his lovely phrase our “apprenticeship in liberty.” And we can now say exactly
what has been going wrong in American life in recent times and indeed throughout Europe. But, in America, the social contract is still
there, but the social covenant is being lost. Today, one half of America is losing all those
covenantal institutions. It’s losing strong marriages and families and communities. It’s
losing a strong sense of the American narrative. It’s even losing e pluribus unum because
today everyone prefers pluribus to unum. So in place of the single collective identity,
you find a myriad of ever smaller identities, local ones based on gender, whatever it is
next week. Instead of a culture of freedom and responsibility,
we have a culture of grievances that are always someone else’s responsibility. Because we
no longer share a moral code that allows us, in Isaiah’s words, to reason together, in
its place has come something called emotivism, which says, I know I’m right because I feel
it. And as for those who disagree, we will shout down or burn all those dissenting voices
because we each have a right not to feel we’re wrong. And because half of America doesn’t have
strong families and communities standing between the individual and the state, people begin
to think that all political problems can be solved by the state. But they can’t. And
when you think they can, politics begins to indulge in magical thinking. So you get the
far right dreaming of a golden past that never was and the far left yearning for a utopian
future that never will be. And then comes populism, the belief that a strong leader
can solve all our problems for us. And that is the first step down the road to tyranny,
whether of the right or of the left. But there is good news, which is that covenants
can be renewed. That’s what happened in the Bible in the days of Joshua and Josepha
and Ezekiel and Josiah and Ezra and Nehemiah. It happened in America several times. Nations
with covenants can renew themselves, and that has to be our project now and for the foreseeable
future. We need to renew the covenant, which means standing with Robbie George and friends
and strengthening marriage and the family. It means rebuilding communities. And I don’t know if you noticed, significantly,
just recently, Mark Zuckerberg has changed the mission statement of Facebook from connecting
friends to building communities. And, of course, you need communities if you ever are to have
friends. You know, a British charity six years ago did a survey — medical charity, the
Macmillan Nurses did a survey six years ago, in 2011, and it came up with the discovery
that the average Brit between the ages of 18 and 30 has 237 Facebook friends. When asked
on how many of those could you count in an emergency, the average answer was two. When
you belong to a church or a synagogue or a real community, you have real friends, not
just Facebook friends. And now, Facebook itself is beginning to realize this. It means — and forgive me for saying this
— but it means teaching every American child the American story without embarrassment.
(Applause.) Because you and I remember what people forget — namely, the distinction
made by George Orwell between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is about power.
Patriotism is about pride. Nationalism leads to war. Patriotism works for peace. We can
be patriotic without being nationalistic. (Applause.) It means enlisting not just our cultural heroes
but our children and grandchildren’s cultural heroes. I mean, you know why we have grandchildren:
because they tell us how these things work. And they have icons, and we need to find their
peers of stage or screen or sports who are willing to say, we believe in e pluribus unum.
We believe, like the University of Chicago, in free speech on campus because we believe
that the only safe space there is is one in which we give a respectful hearing to views
unlike our own. That is what a safe space actually is. (Applause.) We need people willing to stand up and say,
rich and poor alike, we all have collective responsibility for the common good. And we
need a culture of responsibility, not one of victimhood, because if you define yourself
as a victim, you can never be free. (Applause.) We have to have people to have the courage
to get up and say that earned self-respect counts for more than unearned self-esteem.
And we have to say the fundamental truth that is at the heart of the Hebrew Bible and of
American politics that the state exists to serve the people. The people don’t exist
to serve the state. (Applause.) Friends, those are the values that made America
great. And they are still what make America the last best hope of freedom in a dark, dangerous,
and sometimes despairing world riven by those who fear and fight against freedom. Friends, you have been so generous to me tonight.
The American Enterprise Institute has given an award to someone who is not American, not
terribly enterprising, and in the words of the great philosopher Marx — I mean, of
course, Groucho, not Karl — I’m not yet ready to be an institution. (Laughter.) So, therefore, let me as an entirely unworthy
outsider beg you, don’t lose the American covenant. It’s the most precious thing you
have. Renew it now before it’s too late. Thank you. (Applause.) ARTHUR BROOKS: Rabbi Sacks has spoken to our
hearts. And now it’s time to break bread with our friends. Enjoy your dinner. This
concludes our formal program. We’ll have supper and we’ll have drinking and we’ll
have dancing and we’ll celebrate this beautiful evening. God bless you all and thank you.

About the author

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *